Tony Mokbel has ended plenty of lives through drug overdoses and murders. Last Friday he also ended the front bench career of former Labor shadow attorney-general Kelvin Thomson, who went down for giving a glowing reference to the fugitive gangster.

But who tipped off Kevin Rudd’s office and why? Today we can reveal aspects of the riddle. On Monday, 6 March, someone with obvious Liberal Party connections lobbed a request on the liquor licensing authorities in Victoria to see the Mokbel file when he applied in 2000 to run a café bar on the third floor of Highpoint Shopping Centre in Essendon.

This person was known to have intimate knowledge about the hearings and was clearly aware of the smoking gun in the file – Kelvin Thomson’s reference. The material that came back a couple of days later excluded the reference, but the political antennae of the Labor appointed bureaucrats were clearly quite sharp. After all, Marsha Thomson, Kelvin’s now-estranged wife, appointed most of them to their jobs as Victoria’s consumer affairs minister then and now.

Kevin Rudd claims his office received “an anonymous tip” on Tuesday, 7 March – just one day after the request was lobbed by the Liberal. It’s not a stretch to assume the bureaucrats alerted the minister’s office, who alerted Rudd’s office who sacked Thomson on a Friday afternoon rather than suffer a Liberal ambush.

The file is said to provide a fascinating insight into the Mokbel empire. He claimed at the time to be a 35 year old man with net assets of $30.5 million, including a $350,000 Ferrari and a $1.5 million farm near Kilmore.

His strategy was to get a low-key venue at Highpoint and then use this precedent to parlay much of his ill-gotten gains into a string of nightclubs and cafes. The licensing authorities knocked him back and Mokbel initially appealed to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, but then later withdrew.

The cops weren’t particularly forthcoming at the time about his extensive criminal record, which includes a string of VicRoads offences, because they were keeping their powder dry on their broader drug investigations.

The Thomson reference didn’t get Mokbel over the line but the rejection didn’t stop him building a chain of nightclubs, as The Age reported on 29 November, 2004:

Alleged drug boss Tony Mokbel is believed to have interests in some of Melbourne’s most popular entertainment venues due to a loophole in liquor licensing laws that is about to be closed. The property developer and racing identity has allegedly financed and is a silent partner in at least 15 of the city’s most popular licensed venues. Relatives and friends of Mokbel are listed with authorities as company directors.

Mokbel’s sister-in-law was jailed yesterday and the “owners” of those 15 venues are presumably assisting police with their inquiries as they attempt to dismantle the Mokbel financial empire.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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