23 May 2016
by Nick McKenzie
Mafia adviser's meetings with Malcolm Turnbull, MPsGreg Hunt (right) with Mr Madafferi at a meeting in Parliament House.
Slain gangland lawyer and Mafia associate Joe Acquaro spent two decades cultivating, and donating to, senior Liberal politicians on behalf of alleged crime figures, even having a meeting with Malcolm Turnbull.
Leaked documents and photos tell the inside story of the political activities of Mr Acquaro, who considered himself the long-standing legal, business and political adviser for Melbourne's alleged Calabrian Mafia cell, and whose political access raises serious questions about Australia's donations regime.
Slain gangland lawyer Joseph "Pino" Acquaro, was allegedly involved in a struggle with key Mafia figures before he was gunned down in a Melbourne street Tuesday morning.
Mr Acquaro's lunch meeting with Mr Turnbull occurred after the now Prime Minister became opposition leader in 2008.
It is understood Mr Acquaro's close associate, alleged Mafia figure and Liberal donor Tony Madafferi, was also present, as were a small number of other donors. Mr Acquaro privately told associates the meeting was organised by Liberal MP Russell Broadbent and connected to Mr Acquaro's political fundraising activities.
Mr Acquaro also previously sought the help of Mr Turnbull's office in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to win a contract to supply environmentally friendly lightbulbs to government offices when Mr Turnbull was environment minister.
A spokesman for Mr Turnbull said, "The PM recalls attending a fundraiser lunch for Russell Broadbent in Melbourne in 2008 with a number of Mr Broadbent's local supporters" but Mr Turnbull "does not recall the names of Mr Broadbent's guests".The Prime Minister also said he recalled a meeting to discuss energy-efficient lighting with a businessman – who Fairfax Media has confirmed was an associate of Tony Madafferi and Joe Acquaro – and "other associates" whose names Mr Turnbull could not recall.
Photos and files reveal that Mr Acquaro and Mr Madafferi held a private meeting with senior Liberal MPs in Parliament House around 2005, including Greg Hunt, who is now Environment Minister.
During the same trip to Parliament House, photos reveal that the pair were hosted by Mr Broadbent at an intimate meal in the Parliament House dining suite. Mr Acquaro later told associates the meal was a "thank-you" for donations to the party.
Mr Broadbent dined with Mr Acquaro, Mr Madafferi and two of Mr Madafferi's relatives, who are also both Liberal donors. After the Parliament House meetings, Mr Acquaro and Mr Madafferi met in Canberra with Luigi Pochi, a convicted Mafia drug dealer named in the Woodward royal commission into drug trafficking and the Mafia.
A spokesman for Mr Hunt said the minister "had been introduced to Mr Madafferi over a decade ago". Mr Hunt "reported this to the then [Liberal Party] state director once reports were made about Mr Madafferi's background".
Mr Broadbent said Mr Acquaro and Mr Madafferi had come to his parliamentary office as part of a delegation led by a prominent Victorian-Italian fruit grower and he had taken the men to lunch in Parliament's members' dining room.
"This is something I have done at least 50 times when different people have visited my office at lunchtime," he said.
Mr Broadbent said he found Mr Acquaro charming but also believed there was an element of "big noting" in his desire to be seen with politicians.
Prior to his death, Mr Acquaro, who was shot dead on March 15 after closing up shop at his Brunswick East gelataria, repeatedly told associates how he had carefully cultivated federal and state politicians in order to get their help or support for those in Mr Acquaro's network of businessmen, some of whom were suspected Mafia figures.
Mr Acquaro's most recent personal donation to the Liberals was in 2013, at a Liberal fundraising event attended by Mr Broadbent, Mr Madafferi and Victorian Liberal leader Matthew Guy.
At the event's fundraising auction, Mr Acquaro bought a balloon ride for about $800, although the donation was never disclosed as it was under the disclosure limit. He privately told associates he had helped raise more than $100,000 for the Liberal Party.
While allegations of the Mafia's infiltration into politics were revealed last year by Fairfax Media in connection with a political lobbying campaign aimed at getting a Mafioso client of Mr Acquaro a visa, Mr Acquaro's political activities have never been made public.
Mr Broadbent was among Mr Acquaro's and Mr Madafferi's closest political contacts, and despite police banning Mr Madafferi from Crown casino due to his alleged organised crime ties, Mr Broadbent said he had seen nothing to change his view of Mr Madafferi as being "an upright supermarket owner". He said he had long known many members of the Madafferi family.
Mr Broadbent attended an event at one of Mr Madafferi's pizza restaurants and was one of several Liberal Party figures whom Mr Acquaro lobbied to obtain a visa for convicted criminal and Mafioso Frank Madafferi, who is the brother of Tony Madafferi.
When the AFP investigated alleged Mafia figures for political bribery in 2009, Mr Acquaro met with federal agents and later told associates he had stymied their donations-for-visa probe by claiming his political activities were not aimed at currying favour with politicians.
A subsequent 2009 confidential AFP report into Mr Acquaro's fundraising activities detailed a "lack of checks and oversight" in the Australian political donations system, which only requires donations of more than $13,200 to be disclosed.
As it stands, political parties and candidates can "receive significant support and financial contributions through avenues not covered by the statutory disclosure regime", states the police report, which was obtained under freedom-of-information laws. Mr Acquaro carefully cultivated his political connections by fundraising and forging ties to prominent Liberal donors such as Sydney furniture king Nick Scali, who introduced him to NSW Liberal figures, including now Defence Minister Marise Payne, as well as the NSW Liberal fundraising vehicle, the Millennium Forum. The forum's fundraising has previously been scrutinised by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Most of Mr Acquaro's and his associates' donations were directed to Liberal Party fundraising groups in Victoria's south-east, linked to the Liberal seats held by the politicians Mr Acquaro sought to cultivate. These included Mr Broadbent, Mr Hunt and former senior state Liberal MP Ken Smith.
Mr Acquaro, who was selected by the former Melbourne Mafia godfather Liborio Benvenuto to protect the Mafia's legal interests, moved seamlessly between the underworld and the legitimate business world, juggling deep associations to alleged crime bosses while holding positions in seemingly legitimate Calabrian business and cultural groups.
There is no evidence that any politician knew of Mr Acquaro's true motives: to build a network of influence in politics to advantage his business and personal affairs and those of his associates, including suspected criminals.
Mr Acquaro would often boast to associates that he "owned" a certain serving politician. Well-placed sources said the claim was likely far-fetched, but nevertheless underlined Mr Acquaro's intent.
A leaked 2005 letter from Mr Acquaro to a NSW Liberal Party donor with alleged Mafia links details his desire to "promote the interests of" certain Calabrian networks "through the political systems, which may include the support or endorsement of a particular candidate to the Italian or Australian parliaments".
When Ms Payne, Mr Hunt, Mr Broadbent and Bruce Billson were successful at the 2004 federal election in which the Coalition was returned to government, Mr Acquaro wrote to each of them, stating "how delighted Tony Madafferi and I were in seeing this weekend's results. Congratulations ..."
Mr Acquaro simultaneously sent a letter to another political contact, now retired Labor MP Bob Sercombe, stating that Mr Madafferi and Mr Acquaro had found the Liberals' win "somewhat disappointing".
Prior to his still unsolved murder earlier this year, Mr Acquaro represented alleged Mafia figures in criminal trials, owned a restaurant and was involved in Melbourne's Italian Chamber of Commerce.
Police viewed him as the respectable "front" man for alleged Mafia figures, an allegation Mr Acquaro privately acknowledged was accurate.
A confidential 2013 Australian Crime Commission report into Italian organised crime details how figures such as Mr Acquaro used a "cloak of legitimacy" to infiltrate politics.
Mr Madafferi has been named in multiple court hearings between 1992 and 2015 as an alleged Mafia figure involved in organised crime, an allegation he strongly contests.
Previously a close associate of Mr Acquaro, he has never been charged with a criminal offence. Last year, the Victorian Supreme Court was told by Mr Madafferi's lawyer that he was being investigated by the Purana police taskforce over an alleged serious crime that Mr Madafferi denies any involvement in.
Mr Madafferi is also contesting Victoria Police's decision to ban him from Crown casino over his alleged organised crime ties.