Australian building officials under probe for massive corruption

By Greg Ansley

Probes begin into allegations of dirty deals linking Oz union officials and crime gangs

The ABC-Fairfax investigation said construction industry rackets involved labour hire, traffic management, scaffolding, crane and building companies.
The ABC-Fairfax investigation said construction industry rackets involved labour hire, traffic management, scaffolding, crane and building companies.

Massive corruption involving union officials, businesses, organised crime figures and bikies has been alleged in the Australian construction industry.

The federal Government has announced a royal commission, investigations have been launched in New South Wales, and the main union involved, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, has promised to root out corrupt officials.

The federal Government is also using the allegations to give new weight to its attempts to bring back the formerly draconian powers of the industry watchdog, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which have been blocked in the Senate by Labor and the Greens.

One Victorian official, union organiser Danny Berardi, has already quit after being confronted with evidence that properties he owned were renovated by two companies in exchange for work on Melbourne construction sites.

The union's national executive has also begun an internal investigation into allegations tying some NSW officials to George Alex, a Sydney crime figure allegedly linked to drug runners, standover men and the Comancheros outlaw motorcycle club. Alex is also alleged to have hired Melbourne crime boss Mick Gatto to negotiate contracts in the Victorian capital.

The allegations have come from a joint investigation by ABC TV and Fairfax newspapers, involving secretly recorded conversations, whistle-blowers, police intelligence files and bank records.

Further confirmation came yesterday from Master Builders Association federal vice-president Trevor Evans, whose home was invaded by three Comancheros in a bid to extort payments from his company. CCTV footage was obtained by Fairfax.

In Queensland former CFMEU executive senior vice-president Stuart Vaccaneo told the Australian he would provide evidence of widespread corruption to any public inquiry.

Vaccaneo claimed to have numerous sworn statements attesting to threats, abuse and corrupt union elections.

Australia's construction industry has long been accused of corruption, standover tactics, intimidation and links to organised crime that at one stage led to the deregistration of the Builders Laborers Federation.

A royal commission in 2003 confirmed the use of standover men, "inappropriate" payments, unlawful strikes and threats of further illegal industrial action, and the forced employment of union appointees to key positions on construction projects.

The ABC-Fairfax investigation showed not only continued corruption but gave detailed accounts of corrupt and threatening behaviour and named people alleged to be deeply involved.

These include Alex, whose business affairs, Fairfax said, were "deeply entwined with known bikie and organised crime networks". Alex allegedly won lucrative contracts with the help of union officials. In Sydney one of his labour hire companies is managed by prominent Comanchero Amin Fakhri.

Recently, a close friend and associate of Alex, standover man Joe Antoun, was shot dead at his home, allegedly over a dispute with another well-known figure in the building industry over contracts worth millions of dollars. Fairfax said he had apparently been replaced by former Comanchero Bilal Fatrouni.

In Melbourne, Alex hired Gatto to negotiate with unions for work for his companies. A 2010 police investigation said Gatto and business partner Matt Tomas were involved in criminal activity in the building industry and narcotics, with close connections to the Hells Angels, the CFMEU and drug importers.

The ABC-Fairfax investigation said construction industry rackets involved labour hire, traffic management, scaffolding, crane and building companies, several of which were connected to bikies and organised crime figures.

It identified several influential CFMEU officials, organisers and shop stewards in NSW and Victoria who had allegedly been given bribes and other inducements by the companies.

CFMEU national secretary Dave Noonan said he was deeply concerned at the allegations and that the union would not tolerate corruption. He promised to co-operate with any inquiries.

- NZ Herald

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