Criminals stockpiling guns as bargaining chips
Exclusive: Criminals are stockpiling high-powered weapons to hand in for lighter jail sentences, surrendering them post-arrest in secret deals conducted with authorities.
It's been revealed that 29 guns recovered from a deserted car in Bankstown last Thursday were all given up by one influential Middle Eastern gangster. The criminal had spent months negotiating the handover with senior police.
The seizure, one of the largest in recent memory, included a stack of firepower: shotguns, assault rifles, handguns, machine pistols and silencers, all prized weaponry that command huge sums on the black-market.
It was one of nearly a dozen discount deals conducted with criminals over the past 18 months, The Sunday Telegraph reported.
While such deals have long been an open-secret of the justice system, police officers, lawyers and even some judges remain concerned that some criminals are now hoarding weapons purely to cut their prison time.
"They're essentially buying a sentencing reduction with the surrender of their own arsenals," said a police officer who's negotiated several deals. "As a police officer you can't knock it back (an offer of weapons) - morally you've got to take the guns off the street."
Gun seizures are prized to the NSW Police Force, moreso than drug hauls. Almost nothing illustrates productivity and community protection like an arsenal of recovered weapons. Some commanders even set unofficial targets for their troops - at least one gun off the streets each week.
But officers central to these deals point to a lack of basic oversight: criminals won't say where they sourced the weapons, and aside from cursory ballistic tests, few additional questions are asked.
Another problem: police never truly know if the guns they seize are the entire stash, or just a fraction of a greater arsenal.
"They (criminals) are smart enough to know how to play the game and the cops and courts allow it," a second officer said.
The most common method of surrendering weapons is to leave them in an abandoned car, but sometimes they are dropped off at a lawyer's office.
"I never look behind where they've come from, or how they've come about," said Paul McGirr, a Sydney lawyer who's negotiated several weapons handovers.
"It's for the authorities to satisfy themselves of the provenance of the weapons, that they've legitimately been taken off the streets and not stockpiled superficially for the purpose of cutting a deal."
Asked if this ever happens, Mr McGirr answered carefully. "I've certainly heard whispers around the traps." Another lawyer, Ljupka Subeska, said these deals were a win for all parties, but there had been abuse. "It seems the overuse of handing in weapons for less significant matters has caused scepticism when it's actually necessary in serious cases."
As for judges, calculating a discount is complicated and varies with each case. They, too, have raised suspicions.
Alen Moradian, a cocaine importer, surrendered a cache of machine guns, rifles, and a grenade launcher, only to receive a five per cent discount on his sentence.
Another man, Craig Phelps, received double that amount for surrendering four weapons.
In a third case, a drug cook who cannot be named received a 15 per cent discount for supplying military-assault rifles and explosives.
"There may have been an intention to squirrel away assistance in the form of firearm surrender for the rainy day of sentencing," one judge said. Another remarked: "There remains a nagging suspicion that … the firearms were in the offender's possession prior to his arrest." A third said: "(The) assistance was not full and frank and was not of a kind that justified the rationales and public interest considerations upon which sentence discounts are awarded."
Arthur Moses SC, President of the Law Council of Australia, is calling for greater scrutiny of these deals, saying that judges would not apply discounts if they knew weapons were amassed to reduce sentences.
"The Courts have been right to raise a concern," Mr Moses said. "Rather than the law being changed, the question really is whether there needs to be more resources provided to police, to ensure that weapons have not been stockpiled for the purposes of trading off terms of imprisonment."
The NSW Police Force and the NSW Chief Justice declined to answer questions.
Recent estimates suggest there are 260,000 illegal guns in circulation, though these weapons don't come cheap. A black-market Glock pistol can cost up to $10,000. A Mac-10 can sell for triple that amount.
In an underworld already renowned for its fractious hierarchies, only the most influential gangsters can hoard such weaponry. Some choose to amass them for sale or loan to other criminals; others in case of a war.
"They stockpile them for multiple reasons," said the officer, who asked to remain nameless, "and while they stockpile them they become an investment, an asset, in case they're charged with a serious offence.