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Mafia lawyer killing raises questions

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The murder of Melbourne lawyer Joseph Acquaro raises much bigger questions about the far-reaching tentacles of the Calabrian mafia in Australia, according to the author of an acclaimed book on the subject.

Acquaro was gunned down as he walked to his car after closing his Lygon Street café in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

He had previously represented high-profile organised crime figures like Pasquale Barbaro and Frank Madafferi, but was reported to have severed ties with the Calabrian mafia.  

Click the owl to read about Barbaro and Madafferi’s involvement in a huge ecstasy importation  

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According to reports, a $500,000 contract was taken out on Acquaro’s life last year, with police then warning him he was in danger.

Former NSW assistant police commissioner Clive Small spent years researching the Calabrian mafia for his book Evil Life, and he says the killing highlights bigger problems for law enforcement agencies.

“Solving the murder is one thing, but it does raise much, much bigger issues,” Mr Small told The New Daily.

“The Calabrian mafia in Australia is continuing to grow, it’s becoming more profitable, it’s laundering and legitimising its activities in a lot of ways while the main source of money is from illegitimate income, such as drugs and so on.

Pasquale-Barbaro
Joseph Acquaro once represented Pasquale Barbaro (above).  Photo: AFP

“And they are still killing people when they think there’s a need.”

Internal affairs

Mr Small said the hit could have been carried out by an outsider – apart from the Calabrian mafia – but was more likely the result of an internal conflict.

“Usually those kind of things occur when there’s been a disagreement over a drug deal, or some other deal,” he said.

“Or if someone is found to have offended the godfathers, not done what’s expected of them.

“Now, on what we know so far, it would appear that is more likely – that the killing has been more of a disciplinary action by some senior figures.”

Mr Small believes a multi-pronged, joint taskforce combining state and federal agencies is the only way to break down the organisation.

“It’s not a short-term project, it’s perhaps even a permanent taskforce,” he said.

Mr Small said authorities were paying the price for having denied the existence of the Calabrian mafia in Australia for decades.

“I think it’s a disgrace that the Calabrian mafia have been ignored for so long,” he said.

“In the late 1980s the Calabrian mafia, or certain families within the mafia, were responsible for something like 90 per cent of the cannabis grown in Australia.

“Not long after that we had the NCA bombing in Adelaide, which was committed by the Calabrian mafia, and the National Crime Authority comes out and says there is no mafia in Australia.

“That denial continued for 16 years.

“And in those 16 years they moved from being the major cannabis growers in Australia to, according to the former AFP commissioner, 10 years ago they were responsible for around 60 per cent of all drugs imported through Australia’s south east.

“That was through 16 years of denial.”

Political links

Mr Small’s book examines the links between organised crime and politicians, and how these bonds are formed and fostered.

Frank Madafferi was jailed in 2008 for his role in Australia's biggest ever ecstasy importation.
Frank Madafferi was jailed for his role in Australia’s biggest-ever ecstasy importation.

“If you look at Frank Madafferi, what you have is a person who came to Australia, but left Australia when it was found not all the facts and figures were right in his visa application,” he said.

“He returned about 10 years later, and almost immediately on his arrival he got married.

“Philip Ruddock, some years later, decided his criminal record overseas – what you’d describe as mafia-related crimes – and justified him being deported.

“Philip Ruddock won a number of court cases supporting the deportation, but was then removed from the immigration portfolio – it was taken over by Amanda Vanstone and a few years later she overturned the deportation order on humanitarian grounds.

“It has been widely reported that there were significant donations made to the Liberal Party following the overturning of the deportation order.

“Now, you could say it was a coincidence. It might be, but it’s doubtful.”

Mr Small says support from people in power and complacency play big roles in allowing the organisation to flourish.

“Political support, donations to political parties was (a factor),” he said.

“And also, people thought that if you admit to a problem, people want to know what you do about it.

“The easiest thing to is ignore it, then we don’t have to do anything about it.”

Clive Small’s book on the Calabrian mafia Evil Life is out now.

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