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Monday, 14 October 1991
Page: 1884

Mr McGAURAN(10.30 p.m.) —- It is necessary to bring to the attention of the House for Government action the revival and the extension of organised crime activities within the meat industry--activities based on money laundering and drug trafficking and distribution. Those criminal elements gaoled or implicated at the time of the meat substitution scandal of the 1980s are back in business in abattoirs, meat boning rooms and meat processing facilities in Victoria. Their networks have grown. The sophistication of their activities has increased powerfully. They have formed powerful networks of interlocking companies and personal relationships. They are increasingly intertwined in mafia and triad criminal activities.

The Giannarelli family, known to be at the heart of mafia activities in Melbourne and the subject of close examination in the Costigan Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union, continues to utilise abattoir cash flows as a means of laundering money won in the gambling rooms of Carlton. By its structure, the industry lends itself to interstate drug distribution.

The meat wagon shipments are well known to authorities of the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service, AQIS, to be the means by which drugs are distributed nationally. The best known of these to AQIS is the drug run operated between Griffith in New South Wales down to Daylesford in Victoria. Another known run arcs across the western district of Victoria.

The industry's sealed export meat trucks are known to afford perfect cover for drug distribution. It is common knowledge in criminal circles that the doors to trucks can easily have the hinges knocked out of them without breaking locks, and drugs and other contraband can be substituted at ease. AQIS inspectors are helpless in this regard. They are not empowered to extend their searches beyond a simple assessment of meat quality. They have their hands tied.

The stories of the extent of the penetration of the meat industry by organised crime are rife. Only last year, Malvern police observed alleged drug deals involving vehicles registered to Melbourne's Islamic abattoirs. This year, one of AQIS's own inspectors has resigned his position after having been under investigation for operating a drug ring. In July or so of this year the individual in question was arrested by police in Warrnambool and now awaits committal hearings.

Those major identities gaoled or implicated at the time of the meat substitution scandal are back in business. Evidence reveals that figures such as Raymond Hammond, gaoled for conspiracy to defraud, is back with his hand in the operation of boning rooms in Melbourne. Joe Catalfamo is back, too, with links to boning rooms and butchers and transport companies. Norbert Boehm--a ring leader in the meat substitution racket who acted in concert with the other Mr Big of the meat scandal, Walter Steiger--has deepened his and his family's links within the industry. Boehm, who was released from prison only this year, already has shelf and trustee companies in place to extend his influence into the meat export industry. He now works for Liberty Meats. His companies continue to operate, having been largely transferred to his brother's name. Boehm's business links also give disturbing evidence of involvement with other prominent regional abattoir operators.

It was Norbert Boehm, incidentally, who financed Leonard Suszko into that other company at the centre of the meet substitution storm, Cisco Meats. Leonard Suszko is back in town; so too is Graham Pearce, another co-conspirator in the meat scandal. He is now a stock buyer for Liberty Meats and Steiger Meats and has been linked with the operations of certain regional abattoirs.

The old network has effectively reformed itself. Those at the centre of the meat substitution racket are seemingly irrepressible. The ring leader of the meat substitution racket, the German national Walter Steiger, has already tried to buy his way back into the local market after fleeing Australia in the early 1980s. Walter Steiger and Norbert Boehm jointly own Steiger Meats, which was one of the meat companies central to the substitution racket. Though now living in Germany and living off the $1m with which he fled the country, only last year Walter Steiger began efforts to set up a meat import-export business. His financial links to this country are still in existence by way of his continued interest in Heide Pty Ltd, of which he remains a listed director.

The company platform for his return is in place. Only in July 1990 did Steiger's daughter make approaches to a branch of the State Bank of Victoria to secure lines of credit through a major Munich based bank. Representations have also been made to the Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions to determine Steiger's legal status in the event of his return to Australia. The Australian Federal Police and AQIS officers know of these approaches. Steiger is trying to re-enter the game because the game is on again.

In Australia, Steiger and the others know the game is there for the taking. The meat industry cannot afford to have its reputation and credibility compromised, especially as the meat industry is worth nearly $3 billion in annual export earnings. But equally important is the need to ensure that the honest efforts and investments of the many owners, operators and workers in the industry are not jeopardised.