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Posted: Dec 8 2011, 03:22 AM
Member No.: 4,647
Joined: 6-December 11
Does anybody know what became of this case against 4 aussies?
Four to be tried on alleged Mafia drugs plot
Jo McKenna Rome
January 11, 2010
FOUR Australians, three of whom are Victorian, will go on trial in an Italian court next month on charges of conspiring with the Calabrian Mafia to import one of Australia's largest cocaine shipments.
The accused - Nicola Ciconte, 54, of Rowville; Michael Calleja, 51, of Kew; Vincenzo Medici, 45, of Mildura, and Carmelo Loprete, 41, of Adelaide - will be tried in absentia in the small town of Vibo Valentia in the southern region of Calabria on February 10, after the Italian Government failed to extradite them from Australia.
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''The four Australians are being tried as fugitives,'' senior anti-Mafia prosecutor Salvatore Curcio told The Age exclusively. ''They will not be there, but if they have an interest in this trial they should come to Italy,'' he said.
Security at the trial is expected to be extra tight after a bomb attack on a court building in the nearby city of Reggio Calabria a week ago.
No one was injured in the attack but it was widely interpreted as a bid to intimidate Italian prosecutors tackling the Mafia's spread.
Court documents lodged by anti-Mafia prosecutors in Vibo Valentia allege that the four Australians conspired with figures from the Calabrian Mafia, known as 'Ndrangheta, to ship up to 500 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated street value of about $50 million from South America to Melbourne via Italy between 2002 and 2004.
The trial is the latest in a series of court cases to have emerged from a major investigation by Italian authorities - code named Operation Decollo - into a Mafia drug-smuggling network that allegedly sought to ship huge quantities of cocaine across four continents inside slabs of marble, plastic tubes and canned tuna.
Since senior Italian police and anti-Mafia investigators infiltrated the international drug network in 2000, a total of 119 people - both Italian and foreign nationals - have been tried and sentenced in Italy for involvement in the smuggling attempt.
The Australian Federal Police joined officers from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration and police from Venezuela, Colombia, France, Spain and the Netherlands to expose how the Calabrian Mafia used a sophisticated network to move cocaine around the world.
The four Australians are charged with criminal association aimed at international cocaine trafficking and attempted importation of cocaine.
If convicted they would face lengthy prison terms if they set foot in Italy, even though only one of the men, Vincenzo Medici, was born in the country. (According to Italian records, Ciconte was born in Wonthaggi, Calleja in Malta and Loprete in Adelaide. There is no suggestion that other Australians with similar names were involved.)
Court documents allege the four ''committed acts which were directed to the transportation and importation into Australian territory of enormous quantities of narcotic substances, specifically cocaine''.
Arrest warrants for the four Australians were issued by anti-Mafia prosecutors and Italian police in the southern city of Catanzaro in January 2004, as officers swooped on more than 100 suspects in Colombia, Spain and Italy.
While the four Australians are not expected to appear at the February trial, a court lawyer will be appointed to represent them.
The case exposed the Calabrian crime cartel's vast global links, which Italy's top anti-Mafia prosecutors stress is underestimated by Australian authorities, according to Mr Curcio.
''This case is important because it shows how an operation in Melbourne was directly involved in the importation and exportation of cocaine from one country to another and the scale on which it was done,'' he said.
Italian court documents obtained by The Age allege Nicolo Ciconte played a lead role in negotiating with Calabrian gangsters to set up the deal.
The documents allege that Ciconte was one of a few people who ''promoted, financed and organised'' the cocaine shipment and was responsible for ''maintaining contact'' with the Calabrians.
He is also alleged to have been responsible for ensuring the drugs would be removed from shipping containers on arrival and worked with Medici, Calleja and Loprete - each of whom allegedly made trips to Italy to ''work out the details of the shipments and payment to provide for the cocaine to be put on the Australian market''.
Prosecutors are expected to present detailed transcripts of several long-distance telephone conversations allegedly made between Ciconte and Vincenzo Barbieri, a senior Mafia figure sentenced to 18 years' prison in 2005 - later reduced to 10 years on appeal - for his role in the foiled conspiracy.
The documents allege Ciconte and Barbieri discussed ''finalising a criminal plan for the transaction of a considerable quantity of cocaine from Colombia to Australia and the related commercial transactions between Colombian and Australian companies that would conceal the subsequent transport of cocaine''.
Barbieri and Ciconte allegedly had several conversations to finalise the deal, leading to an alleged meeting between Barbieri and Michael Calleja in Calabria to make final arrangements in June 2002.
Calleja allegedly inspected the drugs and was later allegedly recorded telling Ciconte in a cryptic telephone conversation that the ''mobilia'' (furniture) was beautiful, allegedly to indicate the quality of the cocaine. Prosecutors also have photographic evidence of a meeting allegedly between Calleja and Medici with Mafia leaders.
Ciconte could not leave Australia at the time because he had just completed a 12-month sentence for fraud and failing to answer questions about drug trafficking before the Australian Crime Commission.
After Calleja met Barbieri and others in Vibo Valentia in June 2002, prosecutors allege two ''trial shipments'' - one of clay, one of marble - were shipped to Australia from Colombia in late 2002 to test the reliability of their smuggling route.
Mr Curcio has been seeking extradition since warrants were issued for their arrest in 2004 but it is unclear if his request was formally lodged with the Australian Government.
The Italian Ministry of Justice declined to comment on the current status of the request or whether it had been formally put to the Australian Attorney-General's department or the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. But Mr Curcio insists he requested the extradition.
''We issued an extradition request to the Australian Government but we received no response,'' Mr Curcio said. ''We therefore have decided to proceed with the trial without their involvement.''
The Age has previously reported that the Australian Federal Police did not charge the four Australians allegedly involved in the conspiracy on the advice of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions on grounds of inadequate evidence.
Gathering evidence remains one of the greatest challenges for prosecutors and law enforcement officials dealing with 'Ndrangheta, a largely impenetrable organisation based on blood ties that produces fewer informers.
The organisation now has an estimated annual turnover worth more than $70 billion and its local and international expansion has been less affected by the Italian Government's hardline approach to organised crime than other Mafia groups such as Sicily's Cosa Nostra or the Camorra in Naples.
A report by the Italian parliament's Anti-Mafia Commission in 2008 claimed that Australians were part of an international smuggling network and that specialists in Australia were using a ''sophisticated mechanism'' to launder illicit drug profits.
Additional research by Silvia Cavasola.
Posted: Dec 20 2011, 04:23 AM
Member No.: 4,628
Joined: 25-October 11
Sorry,I thought Id posted this a week ago.
For whatever reason, the Australian government declined to extradite Loprete and the others. IIRC, Italian courts tried them in absenstia.
Another earlier article on the case;
Turncoat evidence in drug plot
Jo McKenna, Rome
February 9, 2010
ITALIAN prosecutors will draw on evidence from a Mafia turncoat when four Australians go on trial in southern Italy tomorrow charged with conspiring with the Calabrian Mafia to import one of Australia's largest cocaine shipments.
The four accused - Nicola Ciconte, 54, of Rowville, Michael Calleja, 51, of Kew, Vincenzo Medici, 45, of Mildura, and Carmelo Loprete, 41, of Adelaide - will be tried in absentia in the town of Vibo Valentia in Calabria after a failed attempt by the Italian government to extradite them from Australia.
Anti-mafia prosecutor Salvatore Curcio has told The Age the prosecution will use testimony from a Mafia turncoat, whose name has been suppressed, to corroborate phone taps, photographic and video evidence allegedly linking the four to a multimillion-dollar drug smuggling network that stretched from Colombia through Spain and Italy to Australia.
According to court documents, the turncoat has confirmed the alleged link between the Calabrian Mafia and what prosecutors have termed ''leading crime figures operating in Australia''.
He has told prosecutors the four Australians made several trips to Italy to arrange the shipment of large quantities of cocaine while members of the elite Carabinieri special operations group filmed their alleged meetings in Calabria.
''The essential nucleus of the investigation with which we are dealing can, without any doubt, be confirmed in the statements and accusations made by [unnamed turncoat]; through the taps of telephones and public places; in international documents; and as a result of searches and seizures carried out in identifying assets,'' prosecutors said in one document.
Security is expected to be tight at the trial after a bomb attack outside a court building in nearby Reggio Calabria and the discovery of explosives during a visit by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano in January.
Court documents allege the four Australians conspired with the Calabrian Mafia in the ''transportation and importation'' of 500 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated street value of $35-$50 million from South America via Italy to Melbourne between 2002 and 2004.
The trial is the latest in a series of cases that arose from an investigation into a vast Mafia drug-smuggling network that sought to ship enormous quantities of cocaine inside slabs of marble, plastic tubes and canned tuna across four continents.
Italian court documents obtained by The Age allege that Nicola Ciconte played the lead role in negotiating with the Italians in setting up the operation.
Prosecutors are expected to present detailed transcripts of long-distance telephone conversations allegedly between Ciconte and Vincenzo Barbieri, a senior Mafia figure who was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2005.
The four Australians are charged with criminal association aimed at international cocaine trafficking and attempted importation of cocaine. If convicted, they would face lengthy prison terms if they set foot on Italian soil.
Arrest warrants for them were issued by anti-Mafia prosecutors and Italian police in January 2004.
While the Australians are not expected to appear at the trial, a court lawyer will be appointed to represent them.
When approached by The Age, the Italian Ministry of Justice declined to comment on the status of the extradition request or whether it had ever been formally put to the Australian Attorney-General's department or the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/national/turnc ... z1d6qBkT99