Visa Dealing Came After Donation

Visa ruling came after donation

Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker
The Sydney Morning Herald
September 20, 2008

THE deportation of a suspected Melbourne Mafia identity was overturned by the former immigration minister Amanda Vanstone 14 months after a large donation was made to the Liberal Party by the man's brother – an alleged Calabrian crime figure.

Four Liberal MPs in two states lobbied or contacted the then Senator Vanstone – now Australia's ambassador to Italy – about Francesco Madafferi's case after being approached by his supporters, including businessmen who had also donated to the Liberal Party.

Madafferi's brother, Antonio, donated $15,000 to the Liberal Party in September 2004 and a further $7500 in June 2006. Ms Vanstone granted the visa in November 2005.

There is no evidence to show that the donations influenced any decision making by Ms Vanstone or encouraged any of the politicians to contact her about the case.

But the revelations raise questions about the appropriateness of political parties accepting donations from those seeking favourable visa-related decisions or access to politicians.

Ms Vanstone's predecessor as immigration minister, Philip Ruddock, had ordered Madafferi's deportation to Italy on character grounds in 2000, citing his alleged serious criminal activity in Italy in the 1980s and his status as an illegal immigrant who had overstayed his tourist visa in 1989.

Madafferi, 47, was charged by federal police last month in Melbourne in connection to a syndicate allegedly involved in the world's largest seizure of ecstasy. His involvement in an alleged drug trafficking conspiracy occurred just over two years after Ms Vanstone granted him a visa.

It is understood that Ms Vanstone intervened using her discretion under a June 2005 amendment of the Migration Act.

Three federal Liberals – Senator Marise Payne and MPs Russell Broadbent and Bruce Billson – contacted or made representations to Ms Vanstone about the Madafferi case. A NSW shadow cabinet member also made a representation.

Ms Vanstone did not respond to questions about why she let Madafferi stay after the government had won a nine-year battle to deport him – but the MPs concerned defended their actions.

Madafferi's lawyer, Joe Acquaro, said that the lobbying and donations did not affect the visa decision and it was based only on the merits of Madafferi's case, including his mental health issues.

Ms Vanstone, Senator Payne, Mr Broadbent and Mr Billson attended a 2004 Liberal fund-raiser organised by Italian businessmen, including some who had lobbied for Madafferi to stay in Australia.

Among those at the function in Melbourne was Antonio Madafferi, who donated $15,000 to the Liberal Party's NSW branch in September 2004 via a company he directs called Luckbuy Pty Ltd.

Police suspect Antonio Madafferi is an influential figure in Calabrian crime circles.

A 1998 statement by a senior officer from Victoria Police's organised crime squad, which was aired in court, alleged that Antonio Madafferi was “involved in a substantial number of crimes, including murder, gunshot wounding and arson” and that Antonio and Francesco allegedly belonged to a “crime family involved in blackmail, extortion and murder”.

The statement also alleged that: “If [Francesco] is allowed to remain in Australia, he will continue to carry out acts of violence on behalf of an organised criminal syndicate.”

However an Administrative Appeals Tribunal ruling in 2000 said that statement should not be given weight because of doubts about the reliability of unnamed informers who provided police with some of the information.

Antonio Madafferi was accused by coronial inquest witnesses of links to the murders of two identities at the Melbourne fruit and vegetable market in the 1990s. But there was no corroborating evidence produced and he was not charged. #Another of the donors at the Liberal Party function was John Lattorre, who has had extensive business dealings with the Madafferi brothers as well as the murdered Melbourne crime figure Frank Benvenuto.

At the time of the September 2004 function, Francesco Madafferi's supporters had mounted a strong campaign for Ms Vanstone to overturn Mr Ruddock's decision.

Madafferi, who claimed to be suffering from mental health problems, had sought the assistance of the UN Human Rights Commission, arguing deportation would harm his health and family.

In August 2004, the UN commission advised that Madafferi, who has a wife and four children, should not be deported and that he be released into home detention. The Howard government later rejected the UN's findings.

Mr Ruddock said this week that he had believed Mr Madafferi should be deported because of his alleged serious criminal past. “Australia doesn't have to, in relation to non-citizens, keep them in our jurisdiction where there is a potential risk to the Australian community,” he said.

He did not want to comment on Ms Vanstone's decision. “Amanda Vanstone, I assume, came to another view on the matter,” he said.

Senator Payne said she was first approached about the Madafferi case by NSW businessmen Pat Sergi, Tony Labozzeetta and Nick Scali at an Italian charity function in late 2003. Mr Scali's company has donated to both political parties while Pat Sergi is known for his Labor Party links.

Mr Sergi was named in the 1979 Woodward royal commission as a business associate of notorious criminal Robert Trimbole.

Donation records show that Antonio Madafferi donated $7500 to the Liberal Party at a charity function organised by Mr Sergi in June 2006.

Other supporters of Francesco Madafferi also donated thousands of dollars to the NSW Liberals between 2004 and 2006.