Convicted drug lord Tony Mokbel has conviction quashed

In 2019 we published two articles focusing on the enormous scandal that had unfolded in Victoria involving ‘Lawyer X’, now revealed to be a woman by the name of Nicola Gobbo.

In case you missed these articles a short summary is as follows. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, Ms Gobbo was a very prominent criminal barrister working in Victoria for some (and perhaps most) of the most notorious, dangerous and high profile criminals in the state. Most of these people were investigated for the most serious of crimes, including murder, extortion and drug trafficking, and many of them ended up dead or being locked away in prison for a very long time. However, in 2019 it was revealed that Ms Gobbo was a police informant – a person who was employed by the police to provide to them information – and what was even more astounding was that Ms Gobbo was even providing the police with information against her own clients, while she was representing them.

As we mentioned in these articles it appears that this situation has never arisen anywhere in the world at any time and is a real reflection of how desperate the Victorian Police must have been to put an end to the gangland wars that were occurring at the time. It has been revealed that Ms Gobbo’s evidence led to the investigation and conviction of many people for very serious crimes, which prompted a Royal Commission to investigate how this could’ve ever happened.

The overturning of the conviction

In December 2020 notorious drug kingpin Tony Mokbel had his conviction for the importation of cocaine quashed by Victoria’s Court of Appeal. The reason for this was because the court determined that Mr Mokbel could not receive a fair trial, as a result of Ms Gobbo having been a registered informant with Victorian Police while representing him.

Ms Gobbo was acting as one of the two barristers representing Mr Mokbel during his trial in 2006. The second barrister, Mr Con Heliotis, confirmed that Ms Gobbo was present during all conferences with Mr Mokbel during which the evidence and strategies that would be used in court were discussed.

Whilst on bail for this matter, Mr Mokbel fled to Greece and remained on the run for more than a year. He was convicted of the importation charge in his absence and sentenced to 12 years behind bars, with a non-parole period of 9 years. He was captured in Greece in 2008 and extradited back to Australia.

Whilst the Court of Appeal overturned the conviction in December 2020, it also had to decide whether or not Mr Mokbel would face a re-trial and that question was left to be determined at a future date. However, following the overturning of Mr Mokbel’s conviction the Crown Prosecutor, Rowena Orr QC, said no new trial would be held, despite what the Court of Appeal ultimately decided to do. It is likely that one of the reasons for deciding not to re-try Mr Mokbel was because he was sentenced to 12 years behind bars and ordered to serve at least nine, a sentence that began after his capture in 2008. He had served the full sentence by the time of his appeal.

No re-trial

Following the overturning of a conviction, the Court of Appeal can generally do one of two things – it can either enter a verdict of ‘acquittal’ or it can order that the matter be sent back to the lower court for a re-trial. If it enters a verdict of acquittal, the court is essentially saying that there is insufficient evidence for a jury to convict and that the defendant should not have to face a re-trial. If it orders a re-trial, it is essentially saying that, even removing the error or reason for the successful appeal, there is still enough evidence for a jury to consider.

On 16 April 2021 the Court of Appeal ordered Mr Mokbel to face a fresh trial. The Court of Appeal is comprised of three judges and it was a split decision. Two believed that Mr Mokbel should face a re-trial but the third believed that Mr Mokbel should be acquitted.

The judges said that when making their decision, they could not allow the fact that the prosecution had already advised that they would not proceed with a re-trial influence their decision. “While no doubt the activities of Ms Gobbo and Victoria Police … should be thoroughly condemned, we are not persuaded that such condemnation should take the form of an acquittal in the present case,” the two judges said.

Ms Gobbo was registered three times as an informer for Victoria Police between the late 1990s and late 2000s, giving handlers information about underworld figures including those she represented legally. The fact his conviction was quashed constituted a “significant deterrent to the repetition of such conduct” by Victoria Police, they said.

The fallout from this saga continues with many more convictions expected to be overturned. As these develop we will keep our readers advised.

If you’re needing advice or assistance with legal matters, Cridland & Hua are the specialists amongst Brisbane Law Firms, practising exclusively in criminal and quasi-criminal law. Contact us today.

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