Thirty-two Australians who were members of a sophisticated international drug trafficking syndicate have been convicted and sentenced to gaol for a total period in excess of 275 years. Non-parole periods of over 222 years have been imposed. The syndicate leader, Pasquale Barbaro, received a head sentence of life imprisonment.
An intense 12 month investigation by Australia’s law enforcement agencies followed the 2007 interception of what was, at the time, the world’s single largest seizure of ecstasy—4.4 tonnes gross (comprising 15 million tablets). Following the seizure, police tracked syndicate members as they trafficked an additional 1.2 million ecstasy tablets, organised further imports of drugs and laundered in excess of $11 million dollars as they attempted to repay the massive debt arising from the seizure of the 15 million ecstasy tablets in 2007.
The seizure had an estimated street value of $440 million and was discovered by Customs Officers as part of a routine check.
Thirty two of the thirty-three syndicate members have now been convicted. One syndicate member has absconded. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.
The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) ran 9 separate criminal trials—2 in the Victorian Supreme Court and 7 in the Victorian County Court. A total of 22 matters resolved when pleas of guilty were entered in the face of overwhelming evidence of these crimes.
The original arrests occurred in 2008, and the prosecution of the syndicate has taken in excess of 7 years to complete.
There have been 13 appeals lodged, some of which are still to be resolved.
Federal Prosecutors have attended court for over 500 days in order to complete these prosecutions and secure the convictions now recorded.
The investigation began with the arrival of a shipping container in Melbourne on 28 June 2007 from Naples, Italy. An x-ray of the container revealed inconsistencies and was subsequently opened for inspection by Customs Officers.
Customs Officers unpacked the pallets and on closer inspection the contents were found to contain ecstasy tablets—some 15 million in total. This sparked an extensive investigation by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) involving electronic monitoring and surveillance of the drug trafficking and money laundering syndicates.
This AFP investigation also identified a money laundering operation worth more than $11 million. Barbaro’s syndicate utilised money launderers to launder the proceeds of his crimes and to pay for illegal drugs.
Director of CDPP, Robert Bromwich SC said the charges which followed the world’s biggest ecstasy bust resulted in one of the longest and most successful Commonwealth DPP prosecutions ever.
“We are in the business of running big, difficult trials. It was that skill set that enabled us to be so successful in this case.”
Mr Bromwich spoke of the very close working relationship that existed between police and prosecutors in this case..
“The collaboration took place right from the very earliest stage,” he said.
“What a complex case like this teaches you is how important that collaborative exercise is, how important it is to have experienced, dedicated prosecutors who are able to value add in such an important way to the already very good effort by the police.”
In sentencing gang leader, Pasquale Barbaro, King J of the Supreme Court of Victoria, said ‘It is my view that it falls into the highest possible category of offending. The amount that you sought to possess was the largest amount of ecstasy ever seized in this country. It was, at the time of the seizure, the highest amount of ecstasy seized in the world. The cost of the tablets was multiple millions. The profit expected to be garnered from the possession and sale of those drugs ran into the hundreds of millions.’
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Of the 32 convicted accused, 5 were charged with only money laundering offences. The remaining 27 accused were charged with a variety of offences relating to conspiracy to possess drugs imported into Australia, possession and trafficking of drugs, importation of chemical precursors and some with additional money laundering offences.
The charges related to the actual importation of 1.4 tonnes of pure ecstasy, 100 kilograms of cocaine, conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of a precursor (pseudoephedrine) and the trafficking of 1.2 million ecstasy tablets by members of the syndicate.
- Pasquale BARBARO—sentenced to life imprisonment, non-parole period of 30 years
- Rob KARAM—sentenced to 19 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 15 years. Still to be sentenced in respect of three additional major drug charges on which he was convicted by a jury in November 2014 plus a trafficking charge to which he pleaded guilty.
- Saverio ZIRILLI—sentenced to 26 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 18 years
- Frank MADAFFERI—sentenced to 10 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 7 years
- Carmelo FALANGA—sentenced to 23 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 16 ½ years
- John HIGGS—sentenced to 18 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 14 years
- Jan VISSER—sentenced to 11 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 8 years
- Salvatore AGRESTA—sentenced to 16 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 11 years
- Sharon ROPA—sentenced to 9 ½ years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 7 years
- Pasquale SERGI—sentenced to 13 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 8 ½ years
- Domenic BARBARO—sentenced to 7 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 5 years
- Giovanni POLIMENI—sentenced to 18 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 12 years
- Phillip BATTICCIOTTO—sentenced to 10 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 7 years
- Severino SCARPONI – sentenced to 9 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 6 years
- Gratian BRAN—sentenced to 7 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 5 years
- Antonino Di PIETRO—sentenced to 7 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 4 ½ years
- Pino VARALLO—sentenced to 8 ½ years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 6 ½ years
- Anil SURI—sentenced to 11 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 8 years
- Alan SARIC—sentenced to 6 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 3 ½ years
- Fadl MAROUN—awaiting final sentence
- Mohammed ABDUL-NAZEER—sentenced to 2 years imprisonment, to be released after serving 10 months
- Frank MOLLUSO—sentenced to 8 ½ years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 6 years
- Paul PSAILA—sentenced to 4 years 9 months imprisonment with a non-parole period of 2 years, 9 months
- Armen JOSKUN—sentenced to 14 months imprisonment, to be released after serving 6 months
- Kadir DEMIR—sentenced to 2 ½ years imprisonment, to be released after serving 15 months
- Pasqale SERGI (Sydney NSW)—sentenced to a Community Correction Order
- Danny MOUSSA—sentenced to a 4 month fully suspended sentence of imprisonment
- Mohammed Thoufeeq ABDUL-MAJEED—sentenced to 7 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 5 years
- Anvardeen ABDUL-JABBAR—sentenced to 2 years imprisonment, to be released after serving 1 year
- Tanesh DIAS—sentenced to 7 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 4 ½ years
- Seyed MOULANA—sentenced to 2 years and 2 months imprisonment, to be released after serving 17 months
- Antonio SERGI—sentenced to 9 years with a non-parole period of 7 years
- Graham POTTER—absconded, with a warrant out for his arrest.
Further background on this case can also be found on the Case Report of Pasquale Barbaro and Saverio Zirilli.