The boss of Australia’s biggest outlaw motorcycle club wants the High Court to overturn a decision by the Federal Government to strip him of his visa, a move that has left him stranded on the other side of the world.
In an exclusive interview with the ABC’s 7.30 from his base in Malta, Rebels Motorcycle Club president Alex Vella said the cancellation of his visa on “character grounds” was a denial of natural justice.
“I’m innocent, I know that. I’ve done no wrong by nobody, but they’ve shut the door on me and thrown me out of the country,” he said.
Law enforcement agencies have told the ABC that the stranding of Mr Vella in Malta has disrupted the Rebels and their operations.
“There has been no person to step up and take over the leadership role. I would say the leadership structure is in disarray,” Detective Superintendent Deb Wallace of the NSW Gangs Squad said.
Mr Vella, who held Australian residency for 47 years but not citizenship, was visiting his birthplace of Malta in June last year, when his visa was cancelled “on the basis that the Minister reasonably suspected that Mr Vella did not pass the character test and was satisfied that the cancellation would be in the national interest”.
Mr Vella has been the national president of the Rebels since 1973, presiding over a bikie club that has grown to be the biggest in the country with more than 2000 members.
“Our crime is nothing more than a little percentage of what white collar people do,” he said.
Rebels ‘cohesive and disciplined’ under Vella
“[Bikies] get the blame for a majority of the crime committed in Australia, yet we make up 0.3 per cent of all crime committed,” said his son Alex Vella Jnr, also a member of the Rebels, who spoke to the ABC while visiting his father in Malta.
But in Federal Court documents obtained by the ABC, the Government has alleged the Rebels are “high threat to the Australian community”.
“Between January 2012 and June 2013, 718 Rebels MC members, nominees and associates were either reported or arrested in relation to 1211 charges for offences ranging from violence-related offences (including serious assault, stalking, kidnapping and affray), firearms and weapons offences, drugs offences, and property, street and traffic offences.
“The Rebels MC have remained cohesive and disciplined through Mr Vella’s strong leadership,” the documents read.
Superintendent Wallace is the also the chair of Operation Morpheus, an anti-bikie taskforce made up of state and Commonwealth law enforcement agencies.
“We’ve certainly charged [Rebels] with fraud, intimidation, extortion, kidnapping, attempted murder, murder. Alex Vella is synonymous with the Rebels, ” she said.
“Why should I take responsibility for [a club member] who done wrong?” Mr Vella countered.
“That’s for the law to do their job, not me.”
“Members of the motorcycle club aren’t saints obviously,” Alex Vella Jnr added.
“But to brand them all criminals is just like saying all Catholics are paedophiles.”
Bikies top of deportation hit list: Dutton
Mr Vella and his legal team are seeking special leave before the High Court because they say the Rebels president has been denied natural justice under the Migration Act.
In March this year, Mr Vella appealed to the full bench of the Federal Court to set aside the Immigration Minister’s decision.
During proceedings, Justice Robert Buchanan questioned the provisions in the Act being used by the Minister, saying he found “it curious that Parliament thinks it can exclude part of the exercise of the judicial power”.
Questioning the section of the Act that allows the minister to keep information secret on the say-so of intelligence services such as ASIO, Justice Geoffrey Flick remarked that “it strikes me as absurd”, adding that “this case has got an air of unreality to it.”
Despite these concerns, the full bench of the court upheld the right of the Immigration Minister to keep Government evidence against Alex Vella secret because it was “protected information”.
“The Minister concedes that, in making the decision, he acted on adverse information that he did not divulge to Mr Vella,” the judges wrote.
“He says, however, that there was no denial of natural justice because the adverse information was information, by reason of [section] 503A of the Act, he was not required to divulge to Mr Vella … In short, the Minister says that [section] 503A of the Act overrides any natural justice requirement to divulge the adverse information.”
“It’s a bunch of lies behind it, that’s why,” Mr Vella said.
“Why would you want to hide something if a man’s done wrong? Tell them. Tell the public what I’ve done. What’s so secret about it?”
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton would not comment on the Vella case but said outlaw motorcycle gang members were at the top of his hit-list for deportation, adding that 16 bikies had had their visas cancelled since December last year.
“People who head outlaw motorcycle gangs, people who are involved in the organisation and facilitation of criminal activities by their members, well and truly are caught within the character test and provisions of the Act,” he said.
“They become the target of us trying to clean up our visa system to make sure we maintain integrity in the visa system and exclude these people from our society.”
Federal Court challenge Vella’s last hope
Having lost twice in the Federal Court, Mr Vella’s legal team now has one shot left to get the visa cancellation overturned and the Rebels boss back to Australia.
“It would be premature for me to say he’s got good prospects or bad prospects, especially in light of the fact that we haven’t even heard what the High Court wants to do,” Peter Webb, one of Mr Vella’s lawyers, said.
Mr Vella’s wife Heather said the cost of failure for the family would be devastating.
“We’d be split. Australia is his home, that’s where we all are – his kids, our grandkids, his mum. His mum is terrified that she’s never going to see him again,” she said.
Mr Vella also hit back at police claims that his stranding in Malta had thrown the club into turmoil.
“We are also seeing members handing in their colours, which is a very symbolic gesture to say we’re done, we’re finished,” Superintendent Wallace said.
Giving the ABC a tour of his family’s village in northern Malta, Mr Vella scoffed at suggestions the Rebels had become a rabble.
“We got over 88 chapters. Since I’ve been here we’ve got over 90 new members to the club. So it’s really growing,” he said.
“We’re gaining more than we’re losing. Whether I’m there or not, the club will still go on.”