By Associate Professor Jeremy Gans
This year, the High Court heard its first ever case arising from Melbourne’s 1990s ‘gangland war’. Over seven years ago, Tony Mokbel, one of that war’s most prominent identities, failed to appear in Victoria’s Supreme Court part way through his trial for importing drugs in breach of federal law. Some initially speculated that, like many gangland figures before him, ‘Fat Tony’ had become one of the war’s victims. When he was found (alive) in Greece, it became clear (at least in hindsight) that the Supreme Court itself had erred in ruling that Mokbel was not a sufficient flight risk to justify keeping him in custody throughout a prosecution that had been much-delayed due to corruption in the police’s drug squad. Mokbel is now serving a 30 year sentence for drug offences committed before and during his escape, his sister-in-law received a two year sentence for defaulting on his bail surety and at least ten others were prosecuted and convicted for assisting in his escape.
The High Court appeal was brought by two brothers who sheltered Mokbel for months in Victoria, transported him across the country, hired a crew for his voyage to Greece and provided him with forged passports. For their efforts, George Elias and Chafic Issa were each sentenced to eight years imprisonment by the Victorian Supreme Court, one of the highest sentences ever awarded in Australia for attempting to pervert the course of justice. Their sentences were upheld in Elias v The Queen; Issa v The Queen  HCA 31, with the High Court ruling that it did not matter that federal law at the time provided for only a five year maximum sentence for the same offence. Continue reading