The overnight decision by Mick Keelty’s Australian Federal Police to re-investigate donations to the Liberal Party by colourful characters with alleged Italian Mafia links is like an unguided Exocet missile — no-one really knows where it will strike.

NSW Labor Senator Steve Hutchins, a former State Secretary of the Transport Workers Union, has made extravagant statements which will surely come to haunt him.

“If anybody in the Labor Party has been involved in similar activities, they should be thrown out of the party and be hit with the full force of the law,” Hutchins stormed.

“If these allegations end up leading to Labor, well, so be it. But at the moment it only seems like it is those morons in the Liberal Party who are dopey enough to take money from people linked to organised crimes figures.”

Yesterday’s investigation by Age journalists Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker alleged that thousands of dollars went to Liberal coffers with the aim of helping Francesco Madafferi overcome his visa problems.

The article also noted the names of other prominent Italian businessmen who have made political donations — Pat Sergi, Nick Scali and Tony Labozzetta — all prominent in Sydney’s Italian-Australian community.

In his inaugural speech to state parliament on April 30, 1996, the newly-elected MP for Fairfield Joe Tripodi, now Finance Minister, said:

During my election campaign I made many new friends in the local Italian community who assisted me, namely, Michael Daniele, Sam Romeo, Roy Spagnolo, Tony Mittiga and Pat Sergi. These people are friends I intend to keep for a long time.

In her inaugural speech on December 1, 1994, the newly-elected MP for Cabramatta Reba Meagher, the ex-Health Minister, also paid tribute to her helpers:

I would also like to thank Pat Sergi, Michael Danieli, Anthony Cavallaro, Sam Romeo and Nick Scali.

Both newcomers thanked Pat Sergi who received a prominent mention in The Age investigation: “Mr Sergi, a Sydney property developer and charity director, was named in the Woodward royal commission in 1979 as a money launderer for the drug boss Robert Trimbole.”

In the late 1990s, Sergi’s charity work brought him into contact with the Fred Hollows Foundation. He approached the Foundation’s then Executive Director Mike Lynskey with an offer to make “millions” for the charity. At the time he was supporting another charity but offered to “switch horses” and throw his energy behind the Hollows Foundation.

It was a seamlessly presented and brilliantly conceived scheme: Sergi would prevail upon his friends to build a house on donated Crown Land at no cost whatsoever. The house would then be raffled through an art union and Sergi guaranteed that all his friends would buy lots of tickets.

The Foundation does not appear to have accepted his generous approach but Sergi did organise a fundraising ball for the Foundation, which was held at the Sydney’s Star City Casino on October 24, 1998, with tickets costing $1000 each.

I wonder whether Joe Tripodi or Reba Meagher attended. Just asking.

In his recently released book, Smack Express, former NSW assistant police commissioner Clive Small noted that a year after his election to parliament, Tripodi formed a business partnership with Sergi which involved “buying and selling government land and Department of Housing properties in Sydney’s western suburbs for significant profit”.

In February 2005, then Premier Bob Carr promoted Tripodi to his ministry and made him the NSW Housing Minister.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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