– Striding past the glistening rows of duty-free liquor, watches and perfume, the two international travellers moved like men who could fight.
Richard “Gelly” Gelemanovic had broad shoulders and a confident gait, while his companion, convicted heroin trafficker Amad “Jay” Malkoun, had a physique honed during his 16-year stint in prison.
It was July 3rd, 2003, and Malkoun was recently out of jail, having gained popular notoriety after being charged in 1988 as a key player in the state’s biggest drug syndicate, which had been busted with $5.5 million of heroin.
The Federal police who were secretly watching Malkoun at Melbourne International Airport described him in a report as a powerful standover man…actively involved in the Melbourne drug trade.
The profession of his travelling companion, the man Jay called “Gelly”, was also noted. Richard Gelemanovic was a Victorian policeman.
Whether Gelemanovic knew it or not, as he checked in for the flight he would share with Malkoun to Barcelona via Asia, Malkoun was the central target of a live and top secret transnational drug trafficking probe, codenamed Operation Temper. But Temper would be short-lived.
A few weeks after the Barcelona trip, the federal police decided to notify their Victorian counterparts that they were conducting secret surveillance on Malkoun. Watching the convicted drug trafficker had not been easy; not only did he have friends in the Victoria Police force, an AFP report had warned that the former kickboxer was aware of police surveillance techniques, having previously identified undercover [federal] police surveillance operatives. Federal police hoped that formally notifying Victorian detectives of their interest in Malkoun would help safeguard their operation.
Instead, it appeared to make matters far worse. Twenty-four hours after the Victoria Police was told by the AFP of their interest in Malkoun, the drug trafficker received a short phone call on a tapped line.
The caller told Malkoun that his lines were “no good”, underworld slang to describe police monitoring. Malkoun went to ground. Shortly afterwards, Operation Temper – whose investigators suspected that a leak from the Victoria Police was the source of the tip off to Malkoun – was wound down.
In a report in 2004, federal investigators wrote that the crime figure “has displayed a willingness to exploit friendships with persons who are in a position to assist him achieve his criminal endeavours [and that]…Malkoun actively continues to cultivate friendships with serving members of the Victoria Police”.
It was a prescient warning.
The acknowledgment today by chief Commissioner Ken Lay that the infiltration of bikies into the police force is a major problem will surprise few seasoned investigators.
A Fairfax Media investigation can reveal the scale of the problem facing the force and the fact that the concerns voiced on Tuesday by Lay have been long held.
Over the past four years, six separate investigations have discovered inappropriate ties between at least 12 police and bikies. During that time, only a small number of officers have been arrested in relation to their activities after forming friendships with bikies.
Most of these officers have faced minor criminal or disciplinary proceedings, such as charges for inappropriately accessing the police database. None has received a jail term.
The situation privately frustrates investigators from several agencies who believe the outcome of most internal investigations of bikie-police associations does not reflect the danger they pose to the force.
Further, these investigators believe there is a cultural problem among younger officers who fail to recognise that hanging out with a bikie at a gym or at a nightclub carries a significant risk.
A 2010 internal federal police report warned that leaks from one policeman to a bikie figure were compromising the identity of undercover officers and police informers. In 2011, senior Victoria Police officers separately received a high-level briefing on one such inquiry that had been compromised.
About seven years after Operation Temper was shelved, a new federal multi-agency taskforce, codenamed Operation Corsair, began targeting Malkoun. Again, his contact with Gelemanovic and possibly other policemen had been detected during surveillance. Again, Malkoun had received a phone call that would destroy another international drug trafficking probe.
Six-feet-10-tall and weighing 145 kilograms, Andrew Tait was the sort of policeman his colleagues would call on before a raid. Even the most hardened armed robbers or murder suspects would hesitate when confronted by the towering detective.
But his hulking frame was accompanied by an amiable personality. He was a man who liked to be liked. As such, he was prone to oblige requests. This meant Tait didn’t mind being called on to lead a pack of police to the scene of a pub fight, or take lead position when police broke down a suspect’s door.
Tait’s obliging personality, along with some of his hobbies, also carried certain dangers. He was a gym enthusiast with an interest in bodybuilding and guard dog breeding, pursuits that often attract more colourful devotees.
Tait was friendly with one such person, Michael Manzaris, a former bodybuilder who ran a home gym and had links to the Comanchero and Rebels bikie gangs.
At some point in this relationship, Tait wanted to source testosterone (a prescription-only drug traded via a bodybuilding black market).
Manzaris had his own needs; he wanted police intelligence on his cohorts in the criminal underworld.
The men obliged each other. Tait was given testosterone (he later claimed it was for his injured dog) and Manzaris was fed snippets of highly confidential police information about crime figures, including an investigation of an alleged outlaw bikie assault on a kickboxer.
Phone calls tapped by the Office of Police Integrity (which had been alerted to Tait’s activities by the AFP) recorded Tait leaking information in a manner more careless than corrupt.
Last May, Tait pleaded guilty to three counts of disclosing information from the police database and one count of possessing testosterone. He was given a $10,500 fine and a suspended three-month jail term.
The details of some of his leaking, though, were suppressed. The public never learnt that the consequence of some of the intelligence he passed on, unintended or not, could have been fatal. Tait told Manzaris that one bikie figure was prepared to talk to police “off tape”, or an informal setting; this placed the bikie at considerable risk among those who regard any bikie who chats to police as a “dog”.
The court heard no evidence that the insatiably curious Manzaris – who was fined $12,500 for possessing testosterone and lying to anti-corruption investigators – ever passed on Tait’s snippets of information to anyone else in the underworld. But state and federal investigators soon learnt that with Tait out if the picture, Manzaris’ criminal associates were still able to access sensitive police information. The most senior among these crime figures was Amad Malkoun.
In late 2009, Malkoun was named president of the Victorian branch of the Comanchero, making him one of the nation’s most powerful bikies. By that point, his reputation was already established in Australia’s underworld.
The Lebanese-born, former nightclub owner was a multimillionaire with an impressive share, property and business portfolio. He owned a Docklands penthouse, a secret stake in King Street strip club and had converted the old Donnybrook egg farm into a property to rear his prized Arabian thoroughbred horses.
In Victoria, police privately believed Malkoun had replaced Mick Gatto as the state’s most influential crime figure. In the Middle East, Malkoun shook hands with wealthy sheikhs, while in Melbourne he counted among his friends not only bikies, but lawyers, top boxers and wealthy businessmen. And police.
The career of Malkoun’s mate, Richard Gelemanovic, had been less prosperous, it’s progress delayed by brutality charges, over which he was cleared in 2005, and persistent rumours of questionable extracurricular friendships that grew out of the policeman’s fondness for martial arts, the gym and some old friends who had fallen into crime.
“Gelly had known Jay for years, before he took over the Comanchero,” says one mutual acquaintance of the pair, who would not comment on the appropriateness of a policeman hanging out with a convicted heroin trafficker.
In response to questions from Fairfax Media, a police spokesman revealed that past internal inquiries into Gelemanovic’s criminal associations never found enough evidence to allow the officer to be disciplined or charged.
But had Gelemanovic’s superiors dug more deeply around the police officer’s social life and and business affairs, they would have uncovered a series of questionable friendships, not just with Malkoun, but with other figures who move in the bikie boss’ circles.
Property records and documents outlining Gelemanovic’s financial dealings show that that he and nightclub industry figure turned kickboxing promotor Hisham Hannah, who, in 1996, was convicted of serious assault, invested in a property in Edithvale in Melbourne’s outer south-East in 2002.
In addition to Malkoun, Hannah is an associate of several other known underworld figures, including Manzaris and Nick and George Zakharia, who are associated with the Bandidos outlaw motorcycle gang and who have criminal records for drug trafficking. After buying the property with Hannah, Gelemanovic appears to have slowly developed it into several units.
In 2008 and 2009, Gelemanovic and Hannah wee the subject of unproven allegations made to corruption investigators that the pair had been standing over nightclub owners in chapel Street in return for kickbacks. It’s understood that Gelemanovic’s association with the Zakharia brothers and malkoun became more widely known to some senior police around this time. One source says that Gelemanovic was told informally to “pull his head in”.
Instead, he went on sick leave. When he returned to the force, it appears both he and Malkoun made an effort to keep their relationship under the radar. Neither returned calls to Fairfax Media.
When Malkoun invited several policemen, including Gelemanovic to his Crown Casino wedding in December 2010, a plan was hatched to give them table places under fake names. Senior police later learnt that Gelemanovic, a second policeman and the bikie boss also attended a christening of a mutual friend’s child at the Kri Kri Greek restaurant in Melbourne. Gelemanovic never disclosed to his superiors – as is required by a 2008 police force criminal associations policy – his friendship with Malkoun.
The inherent danger of such a relationship was clear; the federal police had warned of it in confidential reports written years before. An Operation Temper briefing file, obtained under freedom-of-information laws, stated that Malkoun’s police contacts could be exploited by the crime boss.
Malkoun, said the AFP, has “an established criminal syndicate in Melbourne which has detailed knowledge of law enforcement methods and ways to counter them. They have contacts in many industries…including travel, shipment…and law enforcement.”
It is believed the Gelemanovic told friends he could manage his friendship with a crime boss so it did not compromise his day job. It’s a view that is also held by several other police who have been investigated over their dealings with bikies.
Force command is less accepting. A police spokesman said on Tuesday that associating with known criminals may subject members to disciplinary sanction including dismissal”.
The struggle for corruption investigators lies in uncovering such associations when they are hidden. In 2008, Hells Angels associate Sunny Otenen and Black Uhlans boss John Higgs were both leaked highly confidential Victoria Police documents, but lengthy inquiries by the Victoria Police and the OPI failed to confirm the identity of the policeman thought to be leaking.
The suspected corrupt policeman who in early 2011 tipped off Comanchero figure Mohammed oueida that he was about to be raided has also never been identified, despite police and OPI investigations.
The leak to Oueida, a junior Comanchero member but a prolific drug trafficker, did not derail the police inquiry into his activities and he was jailed this year.
But Oueida’s Comanchero boss, Amad Malkoun, has fared better. In February, 2011, phone taps from drug trafficking probe Operation Corsair recorded Malkoun receiving a call from crime figure Nick Zakharia.
During the call, Zakharia discussed some if the most highly classified police intelligence in the country, telling Malkoun that he was being watched “full on” by police and that Malkoun and “three of our people” were named in a secret police document. Corruption investigators later assessed this document as being the Victoria Police contribution to a classified national list of organised crime targets.
Soon after getting this call, Malkoun spoke to the Sydney boss of the Comanchero and told him he had been tipped off and there was a Taskforce working on him [Malkoun] personally.
As they had before, Malkoun and his syndicate immediately went to ground. A short time later, Operation Corsair was shut down. Investigations by the Office of Police Integrity and the Victoria Police into who was behind the leaks turned up little and police still insist privately that there is no proof that this leak came from a Victorian Police officer.
That Malkoun had friends in the force was not in dispute. In 2012, Gelemanovic was once again placed at the top of the list of the bikie boss’ suspected friends in the force. A subsequent corruption investigation into the policeman saw him suspended in March 2012 for what is believed to involve an alleged fraud.
A police spokesman said Gelemanovic was reasonably believed to have committed an offence punishable by imprisonment.
Nine months later, on November 20th, 2012, and while still under investigation, Gelemanovic resigned as a policeman.
It had been almost 10 years since he was observed by the federal police boarding a flight to Barcelona with a suspected drug boss.
“Gelly” may be gone, but it’s believed Malkoun and his syndicate maintain other contacts inside the force. For the time being at least, there remains a small number of officers who appear to believe that members of outlaw bikie clubs – even those who are known crime figures – are friends worth having – Nick Mckenzie & Richard Baker
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