Rob Karam may be the first major criminal to walk free because of the Lawyer X scandal.
Rob Karam may be the first major criminal to walk free because of the Lawyer X scandal.

Drug lord leads charge for release over scandal

Rob Karam, a drugs baron sentenced to stay behind bars until he turns 70 on major drug importation charges, may be the first major criminal to walk free because of the Lawyer X scandal.

Karam, 52, lodged an appeal in July 2016.

But gag orders mean he cannot be told any detail of how his case is progressing in the Supreme Court.

A one-time close associate of Tony Mokbel, Karam is serving a sentence of 37 years' jail. The sentence, the result of two elaborate police stings, ended years of high-level drug trafficking.

One of those stings related to the celebrated Tomato Tins investigation of 2007, that resulted in a world-record seizure of 15 million ecstasy pills concealed in cans of the fruit shipped from Naples, Italy.

Karam pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Rob Karam may be the first major criminal to walk free because of the Lawyer X scandal.
Rob Karam may be the first major criminal to walk free because of the Lawyer X scandal.

His case on appeal rests on a simple principle: that a defence lawyer cannot also be a police informer. He is hoping to be freed within months.

Those watching his case include the Calabrian mafia boss who led the Tomato Tins syndicate, Pasquale "Pat" Barbaro.

He is expected to file his own appeal within weeks.

Others in the 33-strong syndicate, such as John Higgs, who founded the Black Uhlans bikie gang, have also engaged lawyers.

Tony Mokbel, who has been sentenced over separate offences to serve 30 years' jail, with a minimum of 22 years before becoming eligible for parole, also lodged an appeal on December 7 last year.

The Herald Sun learned more than four years ago - but was prevented from revealing it at the time - that Lawyer X was also informing on the so-called "Secret Seven'', a syndicate of drug traffickers and drug cooks led by Mokbel.

John Higgs.
John Higgs.

The "Secret Seven'', identified in an Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission report, were all convicted of serious crimes.

Members of Mokbel's broader empire - dubbed "The Company" - could also launch cases.

Karam alleges that Lawyer X was used in multiple sting operations, most notably against him, Barbaro, and other members of the Tomato Tins syndicate.

Karam met Lawyer X through Mokbel in about 2001 after they were charged with major drug offences.

She became Karam's "go-to'' lawyer in 2004.

It is understood that about 2300 of 5500-plus information reports provided by Lawyer X to police on her clients relate to Karam.

As a result of his appeal, Karam's legal team has gained access to some of these reports.

Karam argues "the notion that a lawyer can also act as a police informer (both in respect of that person and probably other criminally concerned persons) is inherently contrary to the concept of a fair trial".

Tony Mokbel has lodged an appeal. Picture: AP/Thanassis Stavrakis
Tony Mokbel has lodged an appeal. Picture: AP/Thanassis Stavrakis

In an appeal affidavit, he claims that Lawyer X hijacked his defence over major drug charges in 2011.

"I now believe that when she prepared the defence responses she was deliberately making forensic choices based on a desire to protect herself and her position as (a) police informer," he claims.

"I also believe that my instructions which she passed on to other lawyers were vetted or manipulated by her to accord with her own personal interest in not being discovered as an informer, or alternatively, to ensure my conviction so as to satisfy her handlers at Victoria Police."

Karam's appeal argues that he was unfairly conned by Lawyer X, whom he calls a one-time friend and agent provocateur.

Karam's first appeal relates to a major cocaine importation from Colombia and other operations.

But in his appeal affidavit he has also flagged concerns relating to the Tomato Tins case.

Lawyer X represented Karam from 2004 to 2013, and he says he placed his full confidence in her.



But he claims far more than that. There were meetings, Karam says, where he declined his lawyer's "various propositions" that "were not always lawful".

He claims she said he could make $200,000 by applying his docks expertise to consign illegal tobacco as "furniture".

The affidavit also sets out an encounter in a city cafe in which he alleges a fellow importer expressed a need for help to access the docks for 200kg of cocaine.

"As (Lawyer X) and I had become very familiar, I did not think too much of my lawyer being involved in such a discussion or recommending me to something like this," Karam claims. "I maintained my position that I could not help. I just thought (Lawyer X) was trying to help me."

Karam says he feared for his life in July 2007, a week after the MV Monica arrived in Australia with about 15 million ecstasy tablets in tomato tins. The haul was stranded on the docks, provoking mafia infighting and fuelling further drug imports in efforts to compensate for the loss of the 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy.

Karam says Lawyer X told him, as they stood outside the Melbourne Magistrates' Court: "I have just run into an AFP officer in the County Court who says there is something big at the docks and I might not know about it but I will soon."


Pasquale Barbaro. Picture: Supplied
Pasquale Barbaro. Picture: Supplied

Minutes later, Karam says he was lunching at Wheat restaurant with Lawyer X and drug boss and Black Uhlans outlaw bikie gang founder John Higgs.

"(Lawyer X) then repeated the AFP comment to Higgs. In the course of that conversation, Higgs told me he wanted to speak with me at the request of Pasquale Barbaro, whom I had never previously met.''

What Barbaro, Higgs and the Calabrian mafia syndicate wanted was their 3000 tomato tins off the docks. What they received was a total of almost 300 years' jail: sentences that only now, because of Lawyer X's intimate contact, may now get a closer look.