Sunday, August 27, 2006

Shameful Mickleberg case in Australia: Justice still being sought

The case of the forged fingerprint

Two brothers jailed over the infamous 1982 Perth Mint swindle are suing a former government minister over their wrongful convictions. Ray, Peter and the late Brian Mickelberg were convicted in 1983 of defrauding the Perth Mint of $653,000 in gold bullion in exchange for worthless cheques.

Ray, who served eight years of a 20-year jail sentence, and Peter, who spent six years behind bars for the scam, fought for years before a legal appeal was successful and their convictions were overturned in 2004. The success of their eighth appeal was largely due to a confession by corrupt detective Tony Lewandowski, who admitted that detectives, including lead detective Don Hancock, had fabricated evidence.

After their conviction was overturned, the Mickelbergs launched a civil suit against the West Australian government and six police officers involved in their case for an estimated $11 million in compensation. News Ltd reported the Mickelberg brothers were now also suing former police assistant commissioner and Labor minister Bob Kucera over their wrongful conviction. The latest suit comes after the brothers reportedly bought for $5,000 a box of sensitive police documents that were found at Lewandowski's ex-girlfriend's home in Thailand.

Mr Kucera, who was not one of the detectives involved in the case, has been accused of being part of the police conspiracy to support the Mickelbergs' wrongful conviction. Two of the detectives closely involved in the case have since died, Mr Hancock was killed in a bikie car bomb attack in September 2001, and Lewandowski committed suicide in May 2004. Brian Mickelberg had his conviction overturned after nine months jail. He died in a light plane crash in 1986

Report here

Background on the case:

Raymond and Peter Mickleberg made four unsuccessful attempts to have their convictions overturned - three appeals to the Court of Criminal Appeal, at which Mr Lewandowski and Mr Hancock testified, and an appeal to the High Court.

Mr McGinty said Mr Lewandowski had admitted that he and Mr Hancock had fabricated confessions from the brothers, and had lied at the trial and the appeals. He had also admitted that Peter Mickelberg was stripped naked and beaten by interviewing officers during the investigation.

Mr Lewandowski had said he had not come forward earlier because he had not wanted to cross Mr Hancock, who died in a car bombing in what police believe was a payback killing by Gypsy Joker bikie gang members after the murder of a gang member in 2000. Mr McGinty said Mr Lewandowski's belated admission - if it were truthful - would strike at the heart of public confidence in the justice system. "This is one of the most high-profile police investigations we have seen in Western Australia, and if it was found that convictions were obtained by police fabricating evidence, the ramifications are enormous." Mr McGinty has referred Mr Lewandowski's affidavit to the royal commission into alleged police corruption, which is due to recommence hearings on July 1.

The robbery on June 22, 1982, was the most audacious ever staged in Perth - an ingenious swindle which saw 49 gold bars spirited out of the impregnable Mint to a mystery hiding place. Although the evidence against the Mickelbergs was compelling - in particular Ray Mickelberg's fingerprint on one of three fake cheques used to pay for the gold - the brothers insisted from the start that the police had framed them. They said the detectives, led by Don Hancock, had lied at their trial in the District Court, had fabricated confessions by all three, and had planted the damning fingerprint.

It would have been easy for the police to get hold of a mould of Ray's finger, they said. One of his hobbies was casting hands, in brass, plastic, rubber and perspex. There were about 20 of the hands in his Marmion Beach home when the police first arrived, and several were taken away for inspection.

In 1989, 55 kilograms of gold pellets, said to have been from the swindle, were found outside a Perth television station, accompanied by a note protesting the Mickelberg brothers' innocence and claiming that a prominent Perth businessman was behind the swindle.

Report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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