News Crime Two men charged with murder over freeway shooting

Two men charged with murder over freeway shooting

paul virgona freeway death
Paul Virgona's body was found in his bullet-riddled van early on a November 2019 morning. Photo: ABC
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Police have charged two men with the murder of Melbourne fruiterer Paul Virgona, who was gunned down while driving to work on the EastLink tollway last year.

Mr Virgona, 46, was driving to work along the EastLink tollway early on a Saturday morning in November 2019 when his van was sprayed with bullets, killing him.

Police raided 12 properties across Melbourne early on Wednesday, including Mongols outlaw motorcycle gang clubhouses in Ferntree Gully and Port Melbourne.

Police units including the Special Operations Group also executed warrants at homes in Montrose, Kilsyth, Lilydale, Tecoma, Wantirna South, Southbank, Noble Park and Croydon, and commercial premises in South Melbourne and Port Melbourne.

Aaron Ong, 34, from Kilsyth and Josh Rider, 29, from Port Melbourne have been charged with Mr Virgona’s murder.

paul virgona freeway shooting
A property in Port Melbourne was among those raided on Wednesday. Photo: ABC

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Tess Walsh told a press conference on Wednesday the two men were “associated” with the Mongols.

She said Mr Virgona had “no criminal associates and no association with the Mongols” but could not say whether the killing was a case of mistaken identity.

Mr Rider and Mr Ong fronted the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday afternoon and sat motionless in the dock as they were told by the magistrate they “obviously” could not apply for bail.

Mr Ong appeared to have a bruise under his left eye.

According to documents tendered to the court, Mr Rider and Mr Ong used a 9-millimetre semi-automatic handgun to shoot 11 rounds into the driver’s side of Mr Virgona’s van, striking him multiple times.

The documents said the killing involved “a considerable amount of pre-planning”, including the use of two stolen cars.

One of the cars was parked prior to the killing in a remote location, where the second car was set on fire.

The gun used in the killing has not been found and police are yet to establish a motive, the documents said.

The pair were remanded in custody to reappear in court in May.

The court was told the two men had “acted in company” to murder Mr Virgona.

Earlier, police also arrested a 30-year-old Montrose man, who was being interviewed by detectives from the anti-bikie Echo Taskforce.

Assistant Commissioner Walsh said this man was likely to be charged with drug and firearm offences.

She said police seized six firearms, a boat and powder that was believed to be drugs in Wednesday’s raids.

Since the shooting, police have focused on a Mercedes with the number plate AZE-110, which followed Mr Virgona from his property and was later set on fire in Mooroolbark, as well as two men who were seen leaving a Volkswagen ute near Bayswater parkland.

Mr Virgona was killed in his van as it emerged from the Mullum Mullum tunnel at Donvale, in Melbourne’s east, about 2.15am on November 9.

His car came to rest in the right-hand lanes of the tollway, sparking calls from other motorists about a car blocking lanes.

‘There are people who know why this happened’

Mr Virgona’s widow Antonietta and son Luca held a press conference earlier in January to appeal for information about the killing.

Luca Virgona described his father as an honest and dedicated man, whose death had left the family distraught.

“No amount of effort, pleading or goodwill can bring him back and the shock of his absence will never cease as it’s now embedded firmly in our daily lives,” he said.

“There are people out there who know why this happened to my father.

“All I ask is that anyone who has information come forward to help us find some sense of justice in a situation where there is none.”