The treatment of informers in witness protection software is back in the spotlight, with revelations that a NSW celebrity witness is currently driving a $200,000 Ferrari and living lavishly at taxpayer cost. But just how much should we cover to violate the criminal code of silence?
The most recent revelations from the Australian come not long after after it had been revealed that a vital crown witness in the trial of Melbourne underworld figure Mario Condello was provided with a bundle worth a reported $1 million.
This informer, known just as 166, gave proof at Condello’s committal but did not need to take the stand at a trial. Condello was gunned down outside him home in February at a still unsolved underworld hit. 166 was finally destined to be relocated abroad after he and his spouse received fresh identities.
The dilemma of monetary compensation for offenders keen to turn informer and input witness protection applications is complicated. And it isn’t going to move away as police forces around Australia increasingly hotel to secure witnesses to decode the underworld’s code of silence.
The press also offers its own problem to face on the problem. In case it strongly criticises police forces for not doing enough to combat crime (only examine the pasting Victoria Police took over Melbourne’s gangland warfare), if it subsequently criticise those same forces for negotiating monetary deals with possible witnesses?
In the instance of 166, the witness asserted that he was made a collection of guarantees by the Australian Crime Commission, such as immunity from prosecution to numerous criminal charges, which were never retained.
At one stage he walked from witness protection and cautioned Victoria Police’s Purana gangland taskforce that he was contemplating not giving proof unless he obtained what he believed was the sufficient financial compensation he had to begin a new life abroad. He rejected first offers and brought in external attorneys to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding with Victoria Police.
The $1 million package was the outcome. In addition, he obtained the immunity from prosecution that he had been later.
166’s situation was analyzed by Victoria’s Office of Police Integrity as a portion of a wider inquiry into witness protection. The OPI’s report explained 166’s struggle with Victoria Police as “a competition in brinkmanship”.
“At precisely the same time, his activities were driven by grief over the situation he had been in,” the report stated.
The OPI, that was directly involved in discussions with 166, stated that a number of the problems surrounding the situation could have been solved with a successful National Witness Protection Program. This could allow witnesses from 1 country to be handled by authorities in a different jurisdiction, thus providing a “circuit-breaker” if discussions ran into issues.
The OPI’s report stated that the problem of just how much a secure witness has been paid and as soon as the payment was made “has got the capability to be among the most contested and annoying facets of involvement of the app”.
“Payments should be based on the principle of trying to renew, or deliver up to, a decent non-criminal lifestyle for your witness and their loved ones. Witness payments shouldn’t be, or perceived to be, a reward for providing proof.”
The Victorian OPI report was introduced to the Victorian Government in July 2005. So far not one of the many recommendations are acted on.