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Investigation reveals Liberal ministers lobbied by mafia figures -

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MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: A Four Corners investigation has revealed high level links between mafia figures and senior Australian politicians.

In one case in 2005 the-then immigration minister Amanda Vanstone granted a visa for a man believed to be a senior member of the Calabrian mafia that enabled him to stay in Australia.

The man was later implicated in one of the country's largest ever drug hauls.

Police say while there is nothing to suggest wrongdoing on Ms Vanstone's behalf, it indicates serious flaws exist in the laws governing Australia's political donations system.

Michael Edwards has this report.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: The Calabrian mafia, known as the "ndrangheta" is one of the most powerful and notorious criminal enterprises in the world.

ROBERTO DIPALMA (translated): Today we can say with certainty that the ndrangheta is the most powerful force in the world when it comes to international drug trafficking, namely cocaine.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: It has operated in Australia for decades, using a mixture of legal businesses such as fruit and vegetable shops, and illegal ventures such as drug trafficking.

Tonight's Four Corners features a year-long investigation into the activities of the Calabrian mafia in Australia.

Among those interviewed was senior Calabria-based anti-mafia investigator Roberto DiPalma.

ROBERTO DIPALMA (translated): The Calabrian ndrangheta's ties with Australia are strong, but that shouldn't shock us because by now we find the ndrangheta occupying a global dimension.

The influx of Italian migrants in Australia has been very historically significant and what better situation for recreating a Little Italy in Australia with the same dynamics, both virtuous and depraved?

MICHAEL EDWARDS: And Four Corners has found the group even has influence at the highest levels of Australian politics.

According to confidential police documents, the Calabrian mafia has made links with the major political parties at both state and federal levels by ingratiating themselves with individual party donors and politicians.

In one case a lobbying and donations campaign was aimed at securing a visa for a crime boss later implicated in a major drug trafficking plot.

The man was granted a visa by the-then immigration minister, Amanda Vanstone. It enabled him to avoid deportation back to Italy where he has an extensive criminal history.

Ms Vanstone granted the visa after extensive lobbying effort conducted by the man's brother - a prominent Melbourne businessman.

Her predecessor, Philip Ruddock, had ordered the man to be deported on the basis of his serious criminal past after police warned he posed a danger to the community.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: I do have a view that in relation to serious criminal records that people may have that they should be taken into account as to whether or not they're able to settle in Australia.

And my first presumption is that we don't take other people's criminals.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: Four Corners has also discovered that the son of a suspected mafia boss did work experience at the Australian embassy in Rome while Ms Vanstone was ambassador.

There is no suggestion that Ms Vanstone acted corruptly but confidential police assessments indicate members of the Calabrian mafia may have ingratiated themselves with her office.

The investigation has also found mafia-linked donors have lobbied a host of Liberal and Labor MPs over issues related to their businesses.

One photograph obtained by the program shows a Melbourne businessman with alleged mafia links shaking the hand of the then prime minister, John Howard, at a fundraising event.

It is not suggested that Mr Howard knew of the man's background at the time but police documents obtained by Four Corners point to "loopholes" in Australia's political donations system.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Michael Edwards reporting.