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10 Dec 2018 11:28
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  •   Home > News > International

    Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton responds to Lawyer X scandal

    Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton could excuse himself from leading the police response to a royal commission into the use of a lawyer as a police informant during the height of Melbourne's gangland wars.

    Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton could excuse himself from leading the police response to a royal commission into the use of a lawyer as a police informant during the height of Melbourne's gangland wars.

    Mr Ashton held a senior role with the Office of Police Integrity (OPI), an organisation established to stamp out police misconduct, when investigators were using the barrister to reveal confidential information about her clients.

    The scandal could taint the convictions of senior gangland criminals, including notorious underworld figure Tony Mokbel, drug trafficker Rob Karam, and convicted killer Faruk Orman.

    In his first interview since the royal commission was called on Monday, Mr Ashton said he first found out about the barrister, known as Informer 3838 or Lawyer X, during his time at the OPI.

    But he reiterated that he had done nothing wrong and would not stand down.

    "I am very confident in my own knowledge and role that I've done nothing wrong in this," he told ABC Radio Melbourne.

    "That's [been] validated by others and other reviews."

    Asked whether he had considered standing down, he said: "I always have to make that evaluation because I'm aware of the importance of my role."

    Premier Daniel Andrews promised a royal commission would be established "within weeks" to look at the use of Informer 3838, and commissioners would be appointed from interstate to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

    'Our polices have changed'

    Mr Ashton is expected to be called to give evidence before the royal commission.

    He said he would meet with the commissioners after their appointment.

    "Certainly, one of the questions I'd be saying is, 'Do you want me to recuse myself from any sort of line responsibility?'" Mr Ashton said.

    "If the royal commissioner thinks that's appropriate, absolutely I'll take those steps to do that."

    In announcing the royal commission, Premier Daniel Andrews said he continued to back Mr Ashton.

    The Director of Public Prosecutions on Monday wrote to 20 convicted criminals informing them that their lawyer had been exposed as a police informer.

    In a letter released on Monday, Informer 3838 boasted about giving investigators information that led to the arrest and charging of 386 people.

    "My motivation in assisting police was not for self-gain," the letter said.

    "But was rather borne from the frustration of being aware of prolific, large commercial drug trafficking, importations of massive quantities of drugs, murders, bashings, perverting the course of justice, huge money laundering and other serious offences all being committed without any serious inroads being made by police."

    Mr Ashton said Victoria Police had implemented policies that would prevent a repeat of that situation.

    "Our policies around this particular area are a lot different to how they were 15 years ago," he said.

    The state's anti-corruption body, IBAC, investigated the matter in 2015 but did not make its findings public.

    Mr Ashton rejected suggestions that Victoria Police provided limited or outdated information to that inquiry.

    "Everything IBAC asked for, we provided," he said.

    'Tentacles spread everywhere'

    Paul Mullett, a former boss of the Police Association union, believes the operation that ended his career with the force was linked to the Informer 3838 scandal and said the royal commission must be broad-based to shine a light "in every nook and cranny" of the scandal.

    "The tentacles of this period in Victoria Police's history will spread everywhere, there will be no doubt about that," he said.

    "In the interests of the community, in the interests of the justice system and Victoria Police, this needs to be a broad-based, thorough inquiry where not only the tactics used around [Informer] 3838 are scrutinised, but [also] other aspects of the management of various investigations at that time."

    Mr Mullett was suspended from the force in 2007 and accused of perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice while he was the subject of an investigation run by the now defunct Office of Police Integrity.

    The charges were later dropped.

    Andrews: royal commissioners to be named soon

    The Premier said he doesn't like the thought of jailed gangland figures receiving financial compensation, but admits it is a possibility as a result of the use of Informer 3838.

    "If you are wrongly convicted in that strictly legal sense because evidence used to secure your conviction was not appropriately sourced, was not appropriately used, then regardless of the crime you've committed you may well be eligible for a compensation payment," he said.

    "No one I think is happy to be even contemplating the notion of having to see people walk free, let alone walk free with a compensation cheque, but let's let the royal commission do its important work and then we can make some important decisions beyond that.

    "Let's let the royal commission establish the facts, and first thing is how many people are directly affected by what went on in the management of this particular informant. That's the first-order issue."

    He said the names of the two royal commissioners chosen to lead the investigation will be announced shortly.

    "Looking beyond Victoria is very important. That's exactly what we have done," he said.

    "We'll have some announcements to make about some very high calibre appointments, that everyone can have confidence in.

    "People that are not in any way — either in real terms or might be perceived to be — part of the Victorian criminal justice system.

    "There will be appropriate distance, and they'll be outstandingly qualified people. They'll do a very, very good job."

    © 2018 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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