The Nine Network this week announced that Underbelly was going worldwide: “Controversial Melbourne gangland drama Underbelly will be seen by audiences around the world in Europe, Asia and Africa after the Nine Network signed an international distribution deal.”

I’ve got news for Nine, Underbelly has already gone worldwide. Mick Gatto and his colourful mates have been in Singapore playing a role in Melbourne’s farcical Opes Prime collapse and inflicting significant damage on the reputation of Australian financial markets.

It’s the most bizarre financial drama we have seen since the last great market clean-out two decades ago: Rothwells and “Last Resort” Laurie Connell.

Rothwells was a Brisbane based men’s wear chain that suddenly became the edgiest “merchant bank” in Australia, without the regulatory authorities taking any notice. It ended up financing anyone who couldn’t get money, advice, or help of some kind from more legitimate sources. They even helped Warwick Fairfax take over Fairfax for a $100 million fee after ANZ CEO Will Bailey agreed to lend billions over the phone – only to claim later that people like Laurie had lied to him.

Now 20 years on, there’s a new Last Resort Laurie: this time he’s Laurie Emini, mild manned financier from Templestowe. He’s got a few racehorses; Laurie Connell had a fleet including one that dropped dead after winning the Perth Cup in somewhat bemusing circumstances.

It’s all so familiar but instead of Perth, it’s Melbourne, which through Underbelly and Opes Prime is really showing the nation how much damage corruption in a police force can cause. The Victorians, of course, were too honest to have an ICAC.

Opes Prime happily financed the grandiose ambitions of a range of stockmarket players of all sizes: from Chris Murphy’s huge portfolio to the Olympic legend who chairs Fortescue Metals and some colourful underworld figures.

Chris Murphy adds the colour and Mick Gatto the “thrill” factor as Melbourne’s seedy underbelly meets the pinstriped world of Collins Street. It’s all so very Melbourne. No doubt they all have the AFL clubs and go to games, just as Laurie Connell and the lads went racing.

Rothwells was tied intimately to the affairs of Bond Corporation and Robert Holmes a Court and even Kerry Packer as a host of big Australian businessmen had a whip around to raise cash to try and stave off collapse for Laurie’s Last Resort. It failed.

This time Mick Gatto is leading the rescue mission which suggests the “colourful” dollars involved are huge. Alan Kohler’s claim on Business Spectator last week that Laurie Emini might have been too scared to enforce margin calls is looking stronger by the day.

After all, how do you margin call Tony Mokbel, when he’s languishing in a Greek jail?

Get more Crikey, for less

It’s more than a newsletter. It’s where readers expect more – fearless journalism from a truly independent perspective. We don’t pander to anyone’s party biases. We question everything, explore the uncomfortable and dig deeper.

Join us this week for 50% off a year of Crikey.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
50% off