BOOKS: by Joseph PoprzecznyNews Weekly
SMACK EXPRESS: How Organised Crime Got Hooked on Drugs, by Clive Small and Tom Gilling
, April 4, 2009
Organised crime's links to Australian politicsSMACK EXPRESS:
How Organised Crime Got Hooked on Drugs
by Clive Small and Tom Gilling
(Sydney: Allen & Unwin)
Paperback: 284 pages
Rec. price: $35.00Something all intelligence and counter-intelligence agencies fear is the sleeper agent informing their enemies from deep within their ranks. It's also the very thing that police forces combating organised crime fear.
Clive Small's account of the various underworlds of organised crime across Australia offers those who, like this reviewer, don't have the time to monitor daily press reports of criminal activity, an excellent overview of our sometimes bloodthirsty and always greedy criminal fraternities. Australia has become - indeed, has been for decades - like 1930s Chicago, as depicted by Hollywood.
Not only are there bent cops clandestinely assisting criminals, but there are also corrupt politicians. Their presence greatly undermines honest law-enforcers trying to combat crime.Mutilation
Australian gangsters kill regularly and often; they even use machine-guns and bombs. At times, they mutilate the bodies of their victims, who are usually other crooks.
To avoid capture, they'll flee Australia, using false passports, which they can acquire, thanks to their links with foreign criminal gangs in Europe, America and Asia. All in all, that's a formidable combination.
However, criminals are prepared sometimes to "rollover" - for a price - and tell the police all.
Phone taps, eavesdropping, tailing and photographing, plus the latest forensic techniques - all these are simply not enough for police to do their job. Inside information is crucial, particularly from well-placed criminals.
Author Clive Small was one of New South Wales's most successful detectives and crime-fighters. He later became NSW assistant commissioner of police before becoming chief investigator of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
He says that virtually all post-war criminal syndicates have focused upon the lucrative drug trade, most especially heroin. He writes: "As this book went to press... Alistair Milroy, chief executive of the Australian Crime Commission... [said] that between $4 billion and $12 billion in drug money was being sent offshore annually."
With that guesstimate's margin being three times larger than the lower limit, it's fair to say that successful police operations snare only a tiny portion of heroin traded.
Consider, for instance, the 'Ndrangheta - the Calabrian wing of Sicily's Mafia, with its Australian home base in the south-central NSW town of Griffith - and the Singapore-based "Mr Asia" gang.
Small says: "['Ndrangheta] became prominent in the 1930s through a terror campaign that included 10 murders and 30 bombings of Calabrians who had dared to resist or compete with its members.
"By the early 1950s police were aware of 'Ndrangheta, which had cells in cities and country towns across Victoria and NSW and thrived on protection and extortion rackets based around produce markets and labour exchanges."
The early 1960s saw at least five murders and several attempted killings. Griffith lad Robert "Aussie Bob" Trimbole emerged as a pivotal collaborator by the early 1970s, after which the cannabis market grew rapidly.
"It was an industry spread across at least four states and generating - in today's values - hundreds of millions of dollars a year in profits," writes Small.
This raised the suspicions of long-time Griffith businessman and anti-drugs campaigner, Donald Mackay, who was promptly shot and killed outside a Griffith Hotel on July 15, 1977. All the usual suspects had "ironclad alibis" somewhere out of town. Small observes: "Those who remained in Griffith had been in a restaurant in the company of local police officers."
Interestingly, in the 1974 federal election, Mackay had stood as a Liberal candidate against the sitting MP, Labor's flamboyant "Flash Al" Grassby, who served as minister for immigration in the first term of the Whitlam Government (1972-74). In that election, Mackay's voting preferences saw Grassby defeated and the Country Party candidate win the seat.
Mackay's later killing forced the NSW Wran Labor Government to convene the Woodward Royal Commission to investigate the illegal drug trade.
It was drug boss Robert Trimbole who instructed his associate, Melbourne mafia identity Gianfranco Tizzone, to find a hitman to kill Mackay. Tizzone thereupon contracted an enforcer for the criminal Federated Painters and Dockers Union, James Bazley, to carry out the crime. When he was murdered, Mackay was once again an endorsed Liberal candidate, this time for the NSW state parliament.
Although Bazley protested his innocence, and fingered onetime Sydney detective Fred Krahe as the assassin, Bazley was nonetheless sentenced to life imprisonment.
In 1984, Tizzone was sentenced to eight years (why not longer?) for conspiring to kill MacKay, but was released in 1986, not 1992! Who arranged such a short stop-over, and why? A careful reading of Smack Express
- and it deserves nothing less - raises such questions among the many answers it provides.
The book's most interesting revelations are the easily overlooked links between organised crime and party politics.
Small's index has the Australian Labor Party appearing on 11 of the book's pages, of which six focus on its alleged links to the Calabrian mafia. The index makes no mention of the Liberal and Country (later National) parties, nor of the fact that MacKay was twice endorsed by the former.
Some Liberal and Country Party MPs attended Mackay's funeral service. No Labor ones were present. Small writes: "When the then Premier, Neville Wran, finally went to Griffith, the local Labor Party MP, Lin Gordon, took him to see an Italian [Calabrian] political godfather, Pietro Calipari, but not [Mackay's wife] Barbara."
In 1980, Grassby reportedly asked a NSW politician, Michael Maher, to read in state parliament an anonymous smear-sheet that claimed that Mackay's wife, Barbara, and her family solicitor were responsible for Mackay's disappearance.
Maher, to his great credit, firmly refused.
Mackay's widow Barbara successfully sued Grassby for defamation for conspiring with Trimbole to pervert the course of justice.Labor backer
As the NSW 1995 state election approached, Pasquale "Pat" Sergi of Griffith, NSW, a long-time financial backer of Labor, nominated for the Sydney seat of Fairfield.
"However, according to a secret NSW police report, the plan may have been terminated when a 'police probe' was conducted and threatened an exposé of Sergi's connection to Trimboli and the 'Ndrangheta's drug network and money-laundering operations," writes Small.
Nor is the assassination of Labor's Cabramatta state MP, John Newman, overlooked. He was struck down in September 1994, just as he reached his home after a Labor Party meeting. Cabramatta, by then, was Australia's drug capital and supposedly had more corrupt police - both on the beat and in command positions - per square kilometre than anywhere in the country.
Small's own intervention in what he dubs "The rise and fall of a heroin capital" was in a secret police investigation codenamed Medlar, which set out to expose the corrupt police network, known as the Rat Pack.
"Until about 1990, the Fairfield-Cabramatta drug trade was dominated by criminals of Yugoslav, Romanian and Italian background," writes Small. "They survived, and for a time flourished through their unholy alliance with the Rat Pack and some other detectives."
Vietnamese gangs subsequently displaced the Europeans, and it was two Vietnamese who struck John Newman MP down in 1994. They were later linked to emerging Cabramatta Labor powerbroker, Phuong Cahn Ngo, who is serving a life sentence - never to be released.
Ngo began by courting NSW Liberals but quickly jumped ship.
Small writes: "He soon counted the former ALP minister Graham Richardson and state head office heavy John Della Bosca among his network of connections. They were well aware of Ngo's political ambitions."
Small describes racket after racket that most Australians know nothing of.
Consider Sydney racketeer, Daniel Chubb, one of the "Balmain Boys", who, in the 1970s, robbed warehouses, stores and licensed clubs and rose to becoming a major cannabis and heroin importer.
Small writes: "Chubb would have cannabis containers [in ports] placed in such a way that they could be watched from a distance.
"In March 1982, Customs seized a container with over two tonnes of hashish mixed in among Middle Eastern foodstuffs. It was Australia's largest detected hashish shipment, but no one was ever charged.
"Less than a year later, Chubb was preparing for an even bigger importation: more than seven tonnes through Darwin."
Chubb liaised through Greek-Australian doctor, Nicholas "Nick" Paltos, who ministered to several of Australia's most notorious criminals.
Paltos went to Greece where he hired a freighter.
"North of Australia, the freighter ran out of fuel," writes Small.
"A fishing trawler was dispatched to meet it, and after transferring the cargo, the Greek crew scuttled the freighter.
"In late February 1984 the shipment was landed north of Darwin, loaded onto semi-trailers and driven to Sydney, where it was stored at a number of locations.
"The crew of the sunken freighter were smuggled to Bali before flying to Greece."
Clearly, chasing street-dealers is akin to swatting locusts during a plague.The big crime figures
It was the big crime figures, like Chubb, Trimbole and Paltos, to name but three, whom Small and so many other dedicated officers were after but only sometimes succeeded in catching.
It's fair to say these unnamed dedicated officers are Australia's equivalent of Commissioner Lin Zexu, the great Chinese imperial government official who combated the British East India Company's opium trade into Canton (Guangzhou) in the 19th century.
Although Small names and describes the activities of over 100 criminals, his focus is upon 44 individuals, each briefly described in his "Cast of characters" and their fates given in a section titled, "What happened to...?"
Of these, 16 served, or are still serving, jail sentences, some with long terms; six are still dealing; six, including Al Grassby, died of natural causes; six are living secluded lives; five were murdered, with one killed by police; one survived two assassination attempts; another committed suicide in jail, while another died of natural causes; and one, Trimbole, fled Australia and died in Spain.
That tally gives us a overview of the nature of one of Australia's "wars" between the law and crime.
On April 23, 2005, "Flash Al" Grassby died, aged 79. Two years later, the Jon Stanhope Labor Government of the Australian Capital Territory's erected a life-sized bronze statue in his honour.