One of the world's most powerful criminal organizations has allegedly used donations to court senior Australian politicians and protect its empire, a year-long investigation has revealed.
The joint investigation, carried out by the Australian Broadcast Corporation's Four Corners program and Fairfax Media, found that the Calabrian mafia, a vast drug and extortion ring that is also known as the 'Ndrangheta, had aligned itself with big-name party donors to put a "legitimate public face" on its underground activities and lobby in favor of the group's legitimate businesses, according to ABC online.
The report exposed links between the group and politicians that were allegedly fostered despite a major federal police investigation into members of the 'Ndrangheta, including of Melbourne crime boss Frank Madafferi, over a suspected murder plot.
In spite of a deportation order against Madafferi — who was investigated in Calabria over the kidnapping of a local politician's daughter there and later sentenced to prison in absentia for crimes that include extortion, conspiracy, and stabbings — his political connections helped him remain in the country, the Four Corners report alleged. It suggested that his family used its fundraising influence with Australian officials to secure a humanitarian visa that Vanstone granted him in 2005, when she was serving as immigration minister under former Prime Minister John Howard's government.
In granting the visa, Vanstone overturned Madafferi's deportation case. She and other officials involved in the decision noted that it was made for the sake of the safety of Madafferi's family. Police later issued a report into the matter that found no evidence of corruption. Vanstone has since retired from politics and did not agree to be interviewed by Four Corners.
The report also claims that the son of an alleged crime boss in Adelaide who had been investigated for trafficking drugs from Europe to Australia was given an internship in 2010 at the Australian Embassy in Rome while Vanstone was serving as the country's ambassador to Italy. Though security officials said that there is no evidence that the son was involved in intelligence breaches at the embassy, they called the work placement a major security lapse that could have compromised international police work.
ABC reported that the Four Corners investigation had uncovered no suggestion that Vanstone had acted inappropriately in either case. But the show's broadcast indicated that senior officials who had worked on Madafferi's visa case were appalled by the decision to overturn the deportation order against him.
While serving as prime minister, Howard and other senior Liberal party officials allegedly met with a man with "deep mafia associations" at a fundraising event in the early 2000s, but the Four Corners report did not suggest that Howard was aware of the man's alleged criminal background. The investigation also found that donors working on behalf of a mafia boss had lobbied members of parliament on either side of the aisle on matters pertaining to their businesses.
Significant "loopholes" in the political donations system have the potential to facilitate corruption and make it "difficult to identify any bribery in the form of political donations," a 2009 Australian Federal Police report obtained by the investigation through Freedom of Information laws said. ABC reported that the federal police described a "lack of check and oversight."
"As it stands, political parties and candidates can receive significant support and financial contributions through avenues not covered by the statutory disclosure regime," the police report said, making it "difficult to identify any bribery in the form of political donations."