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Money laundering accused sells houses for tax debt

Date

Chris Vedelago and Cameron Houston

Underworld associate Irene Meletsis has sold off or transferred to family members nearly $2 million worth of property as she tries to avoid paying a $2.6 million income tax debt.

The Purana anti-gangland taskforce and the Tax Office have accused Ms Meletsis and her husband, Tom Karas, of laundering money for the Mokbel drug empire through the sharemarket, real estate investments, loan sharking and horse racing. Mr Karas' extensive personal and business assets have already been frozen as suspected proceeds of crime over a $47 million debt owed to the Tax Office.

In the last year, Ms Meletsis has evaded at least nine attempts by police and process servers to deliver a writ demanding she pay tax, interest and fines on millions of dollars in unexplained income.

But The Sunday Age can reveal that since becoming aware of the Tax Office action Ms Meletsis has ''sold'' two Fitzroy homes for $1.2 million to Odel Investments, a company owned by Mr Karas' sister, Mary.

Mary Karas, who runs the newly established company from her home in Delahey, is now apparently unemployed but previously worked as a receptionist at Mr Karas' moneylending business, according to her resume. Land title documents show she paid for the two properties without the need for mortgage financing.

In another deal, Ms Meletsis reaped $580,000 for selling a Northcote warehouse once used by her husband and underworld figures to store luxury vehicles. Mr Karas, who claims to have run a wholesale car dealership from the premises, is fighting a $260,800 duty bill levied by the State Revenue Office after it alleged he was rorting the tax system.

It is unclear whether Ms Meletsis has a prior relationship with the building's new owner, who could not be contacted.

Mr Karas and Ms Meletsis have been under investigation by Victoria Police's Purana Taskforce and the Tax Office for nearly a decade over their financial and business links to the former Mokbel family drug empire.

Authorities have already frozen or seized millions in assets from the couple - including champion racehorse Pillar of Hercules - after it was alleged they were bought with proceeds of crime provided by Tony Mokbel's brother, Horty.

The Tax Office has declined to comment on the recent sales or the legal action launched against Ms Meletsis for privacy reasons.

Irene Meletsis, Tom Karas and Mary Karas did not respond to a request for comment.

cvedelago@theage.com.au

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