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The man inside (part two)

Jul 14, 2020 • 17m 15s

The sentencing of Ramzi Aouad came at a tense moment in racialised policing – and there are now people asking if the politics around “Middle Eastern crime” played a part.

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The man inside (part two)

264 • Jul 14, 2020

The man inside (part two)

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

The sentencing of Ramzi Aouad - to life without parole - came at a tense moment in racialised policing.

There are now people asking if the evidence used to convict was fair - and if the politics around so-called “middle-eastern crime” played a role.

This is part two of a two-part episode. Reporting is by Mahmood Fazal.


RUBY:

Mahmood, we're talking about a crime war in western Sydney in the early 2000s and the arrest of key figures from the Darwiche family. There was enormous pressure on police to get convictions at this time. Can you tell me about the case that they were building?

MAHMOOD:

It officially started with a flight to Beirut in early 2006 where police interviewed Khaled Taleb. Taleb’s nickname was crazy. He was well known in the western suburbs of Sydney as a violent kind of enforcer. He was Eddie Darwiche’s, his right hand man within the criminal syndicate.

RUBY:

Mahmood Fazal wrote about this case for The Monthly Magazine.

MAHMOOD:

He's short and stocky with a heavy stutter and aggressive physical tics. Police described him as unstable and crazy.

RUBY:

Right. And what did Taleb tell police in these interviews that he did with them?

MAHMOOD:

Well he detailed his own involvement in the Darwich syndicate to two detectives. And police have told us off-the-record that they were in negotiations with Taleb for a few years prior to the actual official statement was signed.

He detailed a catalog of crimes dating back to the mid ‘90s.

Archival tape -- Taleb:

In the early part of 2001, there was a shooting. One of the Razzak family was ambushed in his house. People just burst into his house in the south western suburbs, produced guns and shot Bilal Razzak as he lay in his bed.

MAHMOOD:

He spoke at length about the Lawford street shooting and other killings he was involved in, some the police actually had no idea about.

Taleb said that in the Lawford street shooting - Eddie Darwiche, Ramzi and two others were to be the shooters. He said that the instructions given by Eddie with each gunman was to start firing at the top of his section of the front wall and lower their aim diagonally in order to continue hitting their targets as they fell.

Archival tape -- [shooting]

Archival tape -- Taleb:

In excess of a hundred rounds entered the home and just murdered these two people.

MAHMOOD:

In Taleb’s statement, he writes, quote, “I remember Eddie holding his hands out as if he was holding a gun. He was moving his arms like in the shape of an ‘S’.”

So this information that Taleb provided was used against Adnan Darwiche. It was the only evidence used to convict Ramzi Aouad, the person I'd been speaking to in prison. None of the weapons fired at the crime scenes were ever recovered. And in his own signed statement, Taleb openly admits to his methods of disposing firearms with the grinder at his uncle's home.

RUBY:

Right, so, Ramzi Aouad is in prison now, never to be released, based on the testimony of one person?

MAHMOOD:

That's right. He is in prison for his role in the Lawford street shootings that left two people dead.

But what's significant is that they were all tried together. Even though Ramzi and Nassim El-Zeyat were clearly much younger and either inspired or felt threatened by the older Adnan Eddie Darwiche, in New South Wales at that time a joint trial could be heard if the series of offences were of the same or similar character.

This meant that, for Ramzi, he faced a jury alongside Eddie Darwiche for several shootings and a murder that he had no part in, which was the murder of Ali Abdul Razzak.

So they stood before the jury as a gang. And as his defense barrister, Peter Hammill, told the court, he said, I quote, “It would have been virtually impossible as a matter of commonsense for the jury to disregard the evidence led against Eddie Darwiche in considering the case of Ramzi Aouad.”

Archival tape -- reporter:

After four murders, dozens of attempted murders, shootings and drive bys, Eddie Darwiche, one of the key players in the family feud, was jailed for life for murder…

MAHMOOD:

And so Ramzi received the same sentence as Eddie Darwiche, imprisoned at the age of 22 and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, a sentence that the European Court of Human Rights has declared a violation of the Human Rights Convention.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Abdul Darwiche appeared outside a court when his brother was jailed for life for committing two murders.

Archival tape -- Ramzi:

$4 million worth of witnesses to sentence them. $4 million… you call yourself you bunch of… get off me...

RUBY:

And what did Taleb get in exchange for his cooperation with police?

MAHMOOD:

As well as financial compensation for seized assets, Khaled Taleb was indemnified of four murders and 17 attempted murders. He was also indemnified for his role in the Lawford Street killings.

RUBY:

Right so essentially Taleb can’t be prosecuted for any of those murders or attempted murders?

MAHMOOD:

That’s right. So he walks freely among us today.

RUBY:

What else did he receive as part of that deal?

MAHMOOD:

So Taleb entered into a deed of agreement with the New South Wales Crime Commission in relation to ongoing witness security and accommodation. He was financially rewarded in a sum that ranges somewhere between seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars to two million dollars in return for seized assets that may have been the proceeds of crime.

The Crime Commission paid the rent for the two houses in which he and his family lived. The deed also made provisions for the payment of economy airfares from Lebanon to Australia for his relatives and for a motor boat to be made available to him because there was nothing to do where he was living, and he said he enjoyed fishing.

RUBY:

Hmm.

MAHMOOD:

In subsequent meetings on Australian soil. Taleb also refused to speak to detectives unless a Red Rooster family pack was provided.

RUBY:

What have law enforcement authorities said about this deal that they made with Taleb, about why they made it?

MAHMOOD:

Well, in an indemnity application that we've acquired, Detective Russell Oxford writes that despite the fact that Taleb could be described as a ruthless, violent criminal, realistically you have to rely on criminals to catch criminals.

Archival tape -- police:

Open the door or we’ll force the door open...

Archival tape -- reporter:

The specialist Middle Eastern crime squads were starting to make a difference.

MAHMOOD:

The confidential application for indemnity sent by the police is a state crime command to the attorney general states. In the history of organized crime, you could look upon Khaled Taleb as being akin to Sammy The Bull Gravano, a trusted confidant and stand over man who brought down Mafia godfather John Gotti.

Archival tape -- police:

Put your arms and hands behind your back.

MAHMOOD:

So in Ramzi's trial for the 2003 Lawford Street killings, the crown prosecutor explained that the reality is that to crack crimes of this type and in this case, the evidence must come from the man on the inside. That is Khaled Taleb.

RUBY:

We’ll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:

Mahmood, we’re talking about the evidence that put Ramzi Aouad in prison, never to be released. There are questions about some of that evidence. Tell me a little about the pressure on police to get a conviction, and how they built their case.

MAHMOOD:

Well in a task force gain briefing. Then Commander Bob Inkster writes: “There were pressure, there was pressure on criminal witnesses. This is not a new and sometimes the only viable option to solve crimes.”

And in my own interview with Stuart Wilkins, who is the former come under in taskforce game, he said the same thing, that it is what it is.

Archival tape -- Wilkins:

At times you get to a point where you've got what you've got. So it is what it is. You either roll the dice and go or you or you or you don't do anything. So at times, you know, sometimes it's as good as it gets...

RUBY:

And tell me about life for Ramzi now, who's in prison with no prospect of release?

MAHMOOD:

In prison, Ramzi recalls his youth. He entered prison illiterate, but now writes long letters. He embraced Islam and became a Hafeez, meaning he memorized the entire Koran.

I also spoke to Ahmed Akal who was Ramzi’s cell mate and released from prison a week prior to my interview with him.

Archival tape -- Mahmood:

So Ahmed, can you tell us the first time you saw Ramzi?

Archival tape -- Akal:

The first time I saw Ramzi was in Goulburn, would have been 2006...

MAHMOOD:

He formed a really strong relationship with Ramzi in prison.

Archival tape -- Akal:

And he’s telling me to like be patient when you get out. Take your time. Doesn’t matter if you’ve got nothing left, just be patient...

MAHMOOD:

He was essentially mentored by Ramzi throughout his sentence.

Archival tape -- Akal:

Believe in God, do this. And try to get a job, bit by bit. You know what I mean? Don’t go back to that life because you’ll just end up back in here.

MAHMOOD:

While incarcerated, he rekindled a teenage romance with Hanadi, a girl he had met briefly in his youth from behind bars. The pair got married, but it's pretty haunting every time I speak to him. I can't begin to imagine what it might feel like, you know, being married to someone who's been locked away forever you know they’re there, but never really there.

Archival tape -- Mahmood:

What do you reckon he’d do if he got out?

Archival tape -- Akal:

He’d thank god first. Probably spend a lot of time with his mum and dad, family. He’d go have a good feed I reckon…

MAHMOOD:

So, yeah, life goes on for us. It just doesn't feel like justice, does it? It feels like we did to them what they were doing to each other.

Archival tape -- Akal:

I honestly don’t understand how he’s in anyway. Three life sentences at that age? It’s not right.

MAHMOOD:

Or that we've taken revenge. I'm just not fully convinced of our motives.

Archival tape -- Akal:

As, like, as Muslim boys, we get hard done by. A lot of the things that happen to us, you know what I mean. I’m not sitting here complaining; but at the end of the day, we get harsher sentences than anyone else does for the crimes that go on, I don’t know why that is. But it is what it is at the end of the day.

RUBY:

Does Ramzi talk to you at all about the police who caught him and the case against him?

MAHMOOD:

He talks about redemption and about how we as Muslims view this Dunya or material world as a stepping stone to the afterlife. He is very remorseful. He prays for those he is harmed every day. What else can he do? Be patient.

Archival tape -- Akal:

He’s accepted his fate, basically. And you can tell you can see a lot in his face.

MAHMOOD:

Tragically, his circumstances are such that he will have to be imprisoned until he's dead.
Life becomes little more than a waiting game.

Archival tape -- Akal:

So he just puts it aside and does his daily exercise, his daily things and goes to bed and wakes up, what can you do. He’s accepted what’s happened to him…

RUBY:

It’s interesting to listen to this case - and think about the conversation happening now around racialised policing. It seems extraordinary that there was a crime squad set up to target a single ethnic group. Looking at Ramzi’s case now, what are your main thoughts?

MAHMOOD:

I think as long as the New South Wales Crime Commission is able to financially induce witness testimony with almost no judicial scrutiny, our justice system is flawed. When the state's most secretive and powerful police agency is cutting secretive deals with major organized crime figures and letting them walk free. No billing them for signed testimony that can't be verified with hard evidence and then paying them for it. It doesn't seem right. You can dish out as many life sentences as you like, but you can't call it justice.

Some of the criminals they gave safe passage to simply relocated their major crime syndicate and started running drugs and car rebirthing in that state. But of course, this isn't about catching criminals, is it?

It's about penal populism and political point scoring.

RUBY:

Mahmood, thank you so much for today.

MAHMOOD:

Anytime.

RUBY:

That was Mahmood Fazal, who wrote about this story for The Monthly.

Some tape in this episode has been drawn from the podcast No Gangsters In Paradise from Audible Australia.

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RUBY:

Also in the news -

There were 177 new cases of coronavirus recorded in Melbourne yesterday, taking the number of active Victorian cases to 1,612.

Meanwhile in NSW, health authorities have confirmed 14 new infections, including four new cases linked to a growing cluster at the Crossroads Hotel in Sydney's south west.

And, in Queensland, human trials have begun for a potential coronavirus vaccine.. with preliminary results expected by September.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see you tomorrow.

The sentencing of Ramzi Aouad to life without parole came at a tense moment in racialised policing. There are now people asking if the evidence was fair – and if the politics around “Middle Eastern crime” played a part. This is part two of a two-part episode.

Guest: Contributor to The Monthly Mahmood Fazal.

Background reading:

The man inside and the inside man in The Monthly
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem.

Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief.
Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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264: The man inside (part two)