Some of Victoria's most notorious underworld figures, including drug lord Tony Mokbel, will be told their defence lawyer became a police informer and gave up information about them in a scandal that has put their convictions at risk.
In what is considered one of Victoria's biggest legal scandals, it can now be revealed that the female criminal barrister, who operated as Informer 3838 from 2005 to 2009, gave police information about Mokbel and six of his associates, as well as hundreds of others.
The scandal is set to embroil senior police and has led Premier Daniel Andrews to set up a royal commission.
High-profile criminals will now be sent notifications telling them their lawyer, whose identity is suppressed, became a police informant and their cases could have been tainted.
As a result, those criminals could appeal their convictions and could walk out of jail or have their sentences reduced.
Hundreds of convictions at risk
Informer 3838 claimed her information led to the convictions of hundreds of people.
"There were a total of 386 people arrested and charged that I am specifically aware of based upon information I provided to Victoria Police, but there are probably more because as you would know, I did not always know the value or use of some of the intelligence that I was providing," Informer 3838 wrote in a letter to police command.
The case has been in the courts for at least two years but was largely stifled by suppression orders, with Victoria Police attempting to block the Director of Public Prosecutions from notifying Mokbel and others that they could have grounds to appeal their convictions.
Those suppression orders were lifted on Monday morning.
In a decision released on Monday, the Court of Appeal ruled the public interest in disclosing the lawyer’s role as an informer outweighed the risks to her, saying the disclosure would reveal the "real likelihood of a serious misdeed of public importance" on the part of the barrister and Victoria Police.
The convictions in question include Mokbel's, but particularly the convictions obtained in one of Australia's largest ecstasy hauls, the infamous "tomato tins" drug case linked with the Calabrian mafia.
Federal police seized a container at Melbourne's docks in June 2007 that was filled with 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy hidden inside tomato tins shipped from Italy.
Mokbel's shipping industry inside man and former horse racing identity Rob Karam is currently serving more than 35 years’ jail for his role in the infamous case.
Karam's jail term is now in question, as well as that of Pasquale Barbaro, the head of the drug syndicate.
Another underworld figure, Frank Madafferi, was also sentenced over the bust.
Why the defence lawyer became Informer 3838
Informer 3838 was registered as an informer in 2005 at the tail end of the gangland war.
She had a mix of motivations for turning "supergrass", the Court of Appeal concluded, including "ill health, feeling trapped in the criminal world of her clients and frustrated with the way criminals used the system and wanted to be rid of Tony Mokbel and his associates".
Her use as an informer "went right to the top" of Victoria Police, The Age was told.
In particular, three senior police officers were on a steering committee that oversaw investigations where Informer 3838 was either used, or detectives attempted to use her to gather information from allegedly corrupt police.
Former chief commissioner Simon Overland, current Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton – who was then at the Office of Police Integrity – and current Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius were all on the steering committee.
Mr Overland, then a deputy commissioner, is understood to have asked then-Briars taskforce investigator Ron Iddles to take a statement from her.
The Briars taskforce was investigating links between police corruption and the murder of self-professed vampire and male prostitute Shane Chartres-Abbott in June 2003.
It is understood Mr Iddles refused to get the statement signed, believing the use of the informer was so unethical it could lead to a royal commission.