Australia Takes The High Ground On Refusing Gangsters Entry But Richo Is Still Our Mayor
in what can only be described as an indictment on Australia, the Labor Party decided someone as grubby as Graham Richardson should be mayor of the Olympic Village. Have they forgotten some of these episodes?
Richo is great mates with John Roberts, the man whose Multiplex construction company got the contract to build the Olympic Stadium and is now helping rebuild Wembley stadium in London. Roberts is also Kerry Packer's preferred builder, there is even some suggestion that Packer has equity in Multiplex. Richo is also Packer's hired hand as a lobbyist and Packer is a big shareholder in the trust which owns Citibank's new flagship Asia-Pacific headquarters across the road from the town hall. Surprise, surprise, the building was built by John Roberts's Multiplex group.
Disgraced Richo Forced To Resign As Minister
Marian Wilkinson's wonderful book on Richo, "The Fixer", spells out his ethical blind spots in all their glory. He rose to become Australia's Minister for Transport and Communications after being a key powerbroker in the Labor Party's decision in 1991 to dump former Prime Minister Bob Hawke in favour of Paul Keating. Whilst on a global fact finding trip to explore pay-TV policy around the world, he accepted a big favour from Kerry Packer who pulled a few strings that allowed him to play the fabled Augusta National golf course in Georgia. Richo was already best mates with Peter Barron, Packer's chief political adviser, and it was Packer who had the most to lose from the advent of pay-TV. As Wilkinson wrote in her book:
"Kerry Packer's contacts were able to arrange for Richardson to get onto the course. The Minister for Communications gratefully accepted this kind gesture, even though he was right in the middle of deciding a policy that directly affected Packer's interests. Richardson had now been in Federal Parliament for nearly a decade and still he had not learnt where to draw the line when dealing with his mates. It was finally apparent this was a fatal flaw in his make-up."
By the time he got to London on the same junket, Richo accepted the largesse of another colorful Sydney identity and Packer mate, cigar-chomping stockbroker Rene Rivkin, who gave him use of his Rolls Royce and luxury apartment. Richo was at the time making representations to the Immigration Department on Rivkin's behalf to get a personal favourite Scandinavian barman permission to work for him in Sydney. Hmmm, the surely was something more to that little tale. Rivkin has had more than his fare share of colorful staff members over the years. Take his former driver Gordon Wood, who was accused of throwing his girlfriend to her death at The Gap on Sydney's foreshore a few years back. Wood claimed he was driving Richo and Rivkin around Sydney on the day she plunged to her death by the Coroner declared an open finding even though two witnessed testified that they saw Wood in the area on the day she died.
The Marshall Islands Affair
The NSW Right of the Labor Party has an amazing ability to forgive its sinners because no-one would have thought Richo could rise again to the exalted position of Mayor of the Olympic Village after the Marshall Island scandal of 1992. This involved Richo using his power and influence to make representations for an old Labor Party mate called Greg Symons over a dodgy business migration scheme in the former US Protectorate in the Pacific called the Marshall Islands.
Wilkinson writes that Richo knew Symons's business past was "chequered" and that he was "a dreamer and a schemer". But he was best man at his wedding and therefore penned a glowing reference under Ministerial letterhead that said he was a businessman and a corporate lawyer with "a career background in Government and subsequently commerce", who had "extensive experience in trade development and export of technology and educational services in the Asia Pacific region". But it gets worse. Richo then listed a string of allegedly successful ventures that Symons had been involved in even though Symons was actually broke at the time and had applied under the Bankruptcy Act to go into a voluntary scheme of arrangement.
The business venture itself was very grubby. Because the Marshall Islands was a former American protectorate, a citizen of the islands with five years continuous residency can get a visa to live in America. The scheme Richo's mate dreamt up somehow promised investors who handed over $US250,000 that they could get immediate access to their American visas and that the funds would be invested in a government-backed Marshall Islands investment trust that would invest in a large technology park on the islands with a tourist hotel resort and a foreign language school that would be built by Richo's favourite construction company, Multiplex. Symons planned to use his political connections with Richo to try and get his visa problem satisfied and Richo called the American Ambassador in Australia and arranged a meeting with Symons. Richo also got fellow Labor mate Senator Kerry Sibraa, a former Parliamentary foreign affairs committee chief, to write a glowing letter of introduction to the Australian embassy in Washington claiming that the Marshall Islands head of State, President Kubua "has sought the assistance of the Australian government in expediting discussions in Washington with key US Government officials and elected representatives in the development of a Business Migration/Investment program in the Marshall Islands".
However, at the same time the five investors in Symons's scheme were being sent documents with forged signatures of the Marshalls's Attorney General. One of them had a son who needed to get back to Australia to study so Symons lent on Multiplex to write a bullshit letter saying this student was a consultant on the Marshall Islands project. Symons persuaded Richo's office to fax the Australian embassy in Fiji to expedite this Visa but the officer there was suspicious and contacted the Attorney General of the Marshalls. They then discovered the forged investment certificates and successfully lured Symons back to the Marshalls where he was arrested. If that wasn't enough, Richo then telephoned the President of the Marshalls and asked that Symons be allowed to return to Australia to prepare his defence.
Three weeks later the story broke in The Australian and Richo deceptively told the media: "I have no knowledge of his business affairs" and later released a statement saying: "Mr Symons vigorously maintains his innocence and I trust he can establish it over the next few months."
However, when the full glory of Richo's involvement came out he was forced to resign and then his mate pleaded guilty to the forgery charges and did 90 days in jail on the Marshalls and was ordered to pay back the $US1.25 million to his investors. It is unclear whether he did this or whether the funds raised helped him escape bankruptcy and pay off his creditors from earlier dodgy deals.
Ministerial Comeback Cut Short By Hookers
Richo did his time disgraced on the backbench but was reinstated to the Ministry after Paul Keating's surprise win in the 1993 federal election. This time he took the Health portfolio but resigned suddenly just before a scandal was about to explode in which it was alleged that a controversial seafood restaurateur from Queensland's Gold Coast, Nick Karlos, had provided him with two prostitutes at the Hyatt Hotel on Sanctuary Cove on the night of August 10, 1993.
The Brisbane Courier Mail newspaper is still fighting for the release of files relating to this from Queensland's Criminal Justice commission under Freedom of Information laws. Richardson's lawyers are desperately fighting it in the hope it won't come out before or during the Olympics, when he is in the spotlight.
Marian Wilkinson says in her book that Karlos is a known associate of Sydney crime boss Lennie McPherson and befriended Richo through Labor Party connections. They met at the funeral of Labor Party identity John Hogan in 1979 when Richo was NSW general secretary. Hogan then introduced one of his restaurant partners Bob Burgess to Richo at a Labor Party fundraiser in 1983. Wilkinson describes this little threesome in her book as follows: "Behind this mateship between Graham Richardson, Bob Burgess and Nick Karlos is a tangled tale of defence contracts, political lobbying and a sex scandal."
It was never established that Richo was provided with prostitutes as a thank you from the restaurateurs but he certainly went to extraordinary lengths to give Burgess a leg up in his various business plans. The most colorful was Burgess's deal with giant American defence contractor McDonnell Douglas to sell them a high-tech defence factory that was due to be mothballed in California. By shipping it to Australia for re-assembling, the company would qualify for the Australian government's defence offsets program in which companies need to demonstrate that there is some benefit to Australian industry from a defence contract.
In early 1992 Richo signed an elaborate letter of support for Burgess under Ministerial letterhead and then even went to Washington to meet with a McDonnell Dowell executive. He sought no advice from the Australian embassy, took no staff member to the meeting and requested no briefing from the Defence department even though it had nothing to do with his own portfolio at the time. Clearly he was just doing a mate a big favour in helping him get a $10 million defence contract.
The Hooker Who Blew The Whistle
About a year later the Queensland police started investigating two madams who were running four high-profile escort agencies. Sarah Gee, one of the hookers Richo allegedly slept with, had been sacked by one of them and decided to spill her guts to police. She identified Richo through a photo and also explained the role of Greek restaurateur Nick Karlos in procuring her services. Unfortunately for Karlos, the investigation came as his marriage was breaking down, his mental health was deteriorating and he was nearing financial ruin. Surprise, surprise, he'd been getting a string of phone calls from Sydney crime boss Lennie McPherson around this time and Karlos even rang Richo one morning in January 1994 asking to borrow a lot of money.
Wilkinson goes on to conclude that Richo jumped out of politics for good just before this storm was about to break. Afterall, the police gave a file to the CJC and Operation Wallah commenced to investigate both Karlos and Richo. The young hooker Sarah Gee was one of the first to give evidence and then Bob Burgess was summonsed too. His response was to immediately ring Richo who claims they only talked about the deteriorating condition of their dear friend Nick Karlos who by now was in hospital. But Karlos, Richo and Burgess remained in regular contact in the lead up to Burgess's appearance at the commission on March 8, 1993 and Richo and Burgess had a long conversation the day after, even though it is illegal to discuss anything that happens in a private CJC hearing. Six days later Richo told Prime Minister Keating that he was resigning from politics altogether. He made no mention of his upcoming problems in Queensland to the PM.
The Queensland investigators stepped up their inquiries on hearing that Richo was jumping ship completely. When Karlos finally gave his evidence, this is what Wilkinson says he argued happened:
"Karlos agreed he had telephoned the escort agency and ordered two girls on that night, but they were not for Richardson, he said. The girls were booked for two Japanese tourists who were dining at his restaurant and he was just arranging them as a favour. The tourists were staying at the Hyatt Hotel Sanctuary Cove so he drove them over. When they arrived they were early. Karlos knew that Richardson was also staying at the Hyatt, so he went up to see Richardson in his room for a chat and perhaps a drink and brought the girls with him. Not long after that he took the girls onto the tourists. Neither the CJCV nor the Queensland police were convinced by Karlos's evidence."
Too right they weren't. Of course Richo slept with these hookers and of course this is one of the reasons he jumped out of politics so suddenly. So if you're an athlete wondering around the Olympic village and bump into the delightful Graham, ask him what you've got to do to get a free threesome from someone who knows Lenny McPherson. Then again, maybe he paid for the girls himself and you can't hold it against someone because a friend of a friend is dodgy. Surely it is standard practice for Greek restaurateurs to bring hookers into the hotel rooms of Federal Cabinet Ministers just for a drink and chat.
The farewell lunch
Richo's departure from politics was marked by a big farewell dinner in the NSW Parliament House dining room which was full to the rafters with 400 people wishing to pay tribute to The Fixer. In what must surely rate as his ultimate act of hypocrisy, Wilkinson writes that Richo stood up and spoke passionately about Labor's commitment to Australia's battlers and the ordinary man on the street. Yet all night he sat next to his colorful millionaire stockbroking mate Rene Rivkin, who he subsequently has been into business and much controversy with. Rivkin is famous for showing off his wealth more than anyone else. He loves nothing more than landing his chopper on his super sloop which has entertained Richo on numerous occasions. And the other great irony came with the decision of this great campaigner for the battler to go work as a highly paid lobbyist and fixer for Kerry Packer, Australia's richest man.
Mysterious Fire Makes The Boys Rich
All of these boys are involved in the controversial dealings around a clapped out printing company Offset Alpine which Rivkin, Richo, Lebanese Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid and a few others bought from Packer for $12 million back in the early 1990s. Conveniently, the boys had insured the business for $50 million and mysteriously it burnt down on Christmas Eve a couple of years later. Ironically, the insurance policy was with FAI Insurance, which was run by one of Rivkin's Jewish business community friends Rodney Adler, who has become a great mate of Kerry Packer's son James. One can only presume that FAI was conveniently reinsured against the exposure because it was paid out in full and all the boys did very well. Now the cynics would suggest this was some sort of conspiracy but we're having none of that. Australia is a dry and hot country and printing presses are notoriously combustible. Besides, it is standard practice to insure something for its replacement value no matter how clapped out it is.
As you can see, good old Richo is not exactly the sort of person who would nominally jump out as a suitable person to be mayor of the Olympic Village. But he also doubled as chairman of SOCOG's ticketing committee which performed no end of stuff ups. He wears another hat a low-rating radio announcer on 2GB and it was through this position that he openly lied about the notorious Tickets For The Rich Olympics scheme. If you want to see that exposed in its full glory, check out this Media Watch transcript.
The nub of the issue is that as chairman of the ticketing committee, Richo led the charge to siphon off 840,000 tickets which would secretly go to the rich at premium prices. But then he told his own listeners that people should stop whingeing just because "some thousands" out of 8 million tickets had been set aside. He later said it was about 50,000 when the reality was almost 20 times that. As you can see, Richo has no problems lying, he even said so in his book "Whatever It Takes".
And as Mayor of the Olympic Village, Richo was also the man dolling out most of the lucrative "cultural attache" posts which come with an "all areas" pass. These have gone to a stack of Labor mates who have all hoped they get obscure African countries that require no work but allow for lots of play with their mate Graham. Let's hope none of these boys abuse their position and use some of the estimated 200,000 condoms that will be used in the bonk-fest that takes place at every Olympics. At least Richo and his SOCOG mates have been smart enough to get these issued for free as part of Pacific Dunlop's sponsorship deal. One can only wonder if Nick Karlos and Sarah Gee will be in the vicinity of the village at all during the games. Afterall, to get a Visa in there you've just got to talk to Mickey's Knight's maaaaate and he'll fix you right up.
Many thanks to Marian Wilkinson for writing her wonderful book. Ring William Heinemann Australia like we did to order a hard back copy for $38. It's worth it.