Friday, August 19, 2011

Top Australian cop convicted on drug charges

ONE of the state's most senior law enforcement officers - yesterday convicted of drug charges - is under investigation over further drug importations, the Herald has learnt.

The conviction of Mark William Standen, an assistant director with the NSW Crime Commission when he was arrested in June 2008, raises questions about his relationship with commission informers and his involvement in the kinds of offences he and his colleagues routinely investigated.

The verdict opens the way for a public examination of procedures at the Crime Commission and alleged corruption in the Australian Federal Police.

The Police Minister, Michael Gallacher, announced a special commission of inquiry into the crime-fighting body but ruled out having the inquiry investigating any allegations of misconduct.

The former premier and now opposition police spokesman, Nathan Rees, said there was a risk innocent people might have been jailed as a result of Standen's high-level involvement in law enforcement. "The Police Minister must order an immediate review of the dozens of serious and sensitive investigations at the NSW Crime Commission [that] Mark Standen oversaw," Mr Rees said. "These investigations now have a very real cloud over them."

A former assistant police commissioner, Clive Small, also said the inquiry should be broadened: "If there's an inquiry that's not going to examine past conduct, then I don't know how the government will be able to understand how things ended up as they did."

Standen was convicted after a five-month trial in the NSW Supreme Court of conspiring to import pseudoephedrine and to pervert the course of justice, and of taking part in the supply of 300 kilograms of the substance. His trial revealed an improper relationship with an informer, James Kinch, financial irregularities and disregard for Crime Commission rules.

Standen admitted breaching commission rules in the way he dealt with Kinch by becoming friendly and accepting money from him.

He also lobbied the Director of Public Prosecutions - with a letter under the signature of his boss commissioner Philip Bradley - to drop charges against Kinch so that he would agree to forfeit at least $900,000 in suspected drug money to the commission. The present Attorney-General, Greg Smith, was deputy DPP at the time and dealt with the matter.

The trial excluded some evidence about Standen's alleged co-conspirators and about further allegations against Standen - some dating back to the start of his 33-year law enforcement career.

Among the things the jury of six men and five women did not know was that one of his co-conspirators, the food wholesaler Bill Jalalaty, last year admitted plotting with Standen to import a large quantity of pseudoephedrine, a substance used to make the drug ice.

After Jalalaty pleaded guilty last year, he and his wife Dianne made serious allegations of corruption in the Australian Federal Police, where Mrs Jalalaty had worked with Standen in the 1980s. It is unclear what has become of this investigation.

Standen now faces possible life imprisonment when he is sentenced at a later date. A 54-year-old father of four, Standen smiled wryly when the jury announced its verdict after less than 10 hours of deliberations. His brothers, who had supported him throughout the trial, declined to make a statement but appeared unsurprised by the outcome.

While the trial was in full swing, authorities were already delving into Standen's further involvement in the illegal drug trade.

This investigation so far has been limited to his contact with Kinch, the informer at the centre of his trial, amid suggestions that Standen had been complicit in several other of Kinch's attempted - and successful - drug importations into Australia since 2004.

The federal police are investigating whether Standen had regularly spoken to Customs under the pretext of passing on tip-offs but with the aim of finding out whether a drug shipment linked to Kinch had attracted their attention. It is believed $200,000 Standen received from him was payment for such services.

Kinch, who allegedly was the link to a famous Dutch drug syndicate, remains in a Thai jail fighting extradition to Australia. He has been watching the case closely, blogging and sending postcards - perceived as hidden threats - to Standen and Jalalaty in jails in Sydney.

There have been allegations about Standen's dealings with other informers, which could mean the inquiry will be widened.

Standen was also convicted yesterday for perverting the course of justice, by allegedly using his knowledge and contacts in law enforcement to avoid detection and prosecution. It did not explore whether any other officers were working with him.

The NSW Bar Association said Standen's trial raised disturbing issues. "Evidence at this trial justifies a re-examination of Mr Standen's connections with informers and other criminal suspects throughout his career at the Crime Commission," said a spokesman, Phillip Boulten, SC. "It is clear that Mark Standen was let go by people who should have reined him in."

The NSW Law Society president, Stuart Westgarth, supported that call, saying: "Where such extensive powers are present, the risk of misconduct is inherent … [and] there is a high risk that if there is misconduct, it will be serious."

But Mr Gallacher said if the commission of inquiry turned up matters that warranted proper scrutiny, it would refer them to the Police Integrity Commission. "It is not my intention to be running a royal commission, if you like, into the Crime Commission. This is a special commission of inquiry to look at the governance issues."

Australian authorities were alerted to Standen's involvement in the importation plan after a tip-off from Dutch authorities, who had intercepted a fax sent by the alleged Dutch syndicate from an Amsterdam internet cafe to Jalalaty's business.

The federal police and the Crime Commission had Standen and Jalalaty under investigation for more than a year.

After the conviction yesterday, police are still wondering about the pseudoephedrine, which was allegedly shipped from Pakistan but never reached Sydney. This, and the whereabouts of some of Kinch's money, remain a great mystery.

Original report here. (Via Australian police news)

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