Underworld figure Mick Gatto will cop to the fact he’s a convicted crook.
He knows he’s no stranger to Victoria’s courts. He has convictions for assaulting police, obtaining financial advantage by deception and in 2009 he stood trial for murder – and was acquitted.
But he’s suing the ABC for defamation, arguing he was hurt and deeply aggrieved by accusations that went beyond what he’s ever done.
His lawyer David Klempfner says an online article published by the ABC in March 2019 implied Mr Gatto was a hitman, a murderer, that he plotted to lure a man to his death and threatened to kill gangland lawyer-turned-police informer Nicola Gobbo.
“My client accepts that he has committed criminal offences in the past … and has some notoriety for having been charged with murder but also then being acquitted,’ he said.
“What lies behind the complaint about this article is it’s really a bridge too far.”
Mr Gatto was acquitted of the murder of underworld hitman Andrew Benji Veniamin in 2005, after the jury accepted the fatal shots he fired were in self defence.
Mr Klempfner said the article’s focus was on Mr Gatto’s “propensity not only for violence but to orchestrate or make threats to kill”.
He said the article implied Mr Gatto was involved in the unsolved murder of fruiterer Frank Benvenuto in 2000 and of the murder of Victor Peirce in 2002.
“It’s particularly harmful and hurtful for Mr Gatto because he has been accused of murder in the past … and was acquitted,” he said.
Mr Gatto will be called as a witness in the trial, which began in Victoria’s Supreme Court on Wednesday.
The claims about Mr Gatto in the article are based on information given by an underworld witness to police.
The public broadcaster is defending the allegations, saying the article is a fair and accurate report of two court proceedings and the allegations in the article are therefore protected.
But Mr Gatto’s lawyers have accused the article’s authors Nino Bucci and Sarah Farnsworth – who are also named in the defamation suit – of “editorialising and speculating” beyond providing fair court reports.