Richard Ackland: As it happens, crime does pay ... and it always will

Richard Ackland: As it happens, crime does pay ... and it always will

ere's hoping we'll see Mike Willesee get the camera in close on Our Schapelle. Who knows, it might be as revealing as his GST birthday cake interview in 1993 with John Hewson.

Somehow, I doubt it. Corby has been reminded by the Indonesian authorities that Kerobokan prison is a virtual paradise and there should be no remarks to the contrary. Anyway, if the interview ever gets to air it will make a nice change from Willesee's work on the appearance on a Bolivian woman of the stigmata, for which he won the coveted Bent Spoon award from the Australian Skeptics.

"This is a landmark victory for speech that is entirely free."

"This is a landmark victory for speech that is entirely free."Credit:Channel Nine

For the past 18 months the Australian Federal Police have had the power to directly launch proceeds of crime recovery proceedings. Unlike those nancy boys at the Commonwealth DPP, the coppers know how to get things done - three dozen of them swarming over Channel Seven's cheque butts and other bits of paper at the offices of various lawyers.

Some of the information from material they seized has turned up in the daily papers. Amazing.


Maybe the thing to do is not have any bits of paper. Chopper Read seems to have been a pioneer of this process in collaboration with the author and publisher of his life of crime, Andrew Rule. Mind you, this was in the early 1990s, before the Proceeds of Crime Act was tightened up and specifically targeted literary works.

It's understood there was no contract, as such, between Read and Rule, and that any payments were acts of grace, purely at the discretion of the payer.

The hoary old crim did get about $22,000 in rights payments from the producers of the film Chopper. He wanted to give that money to the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, but the hospital was fussy, not wanting to receive ''tainted funds''. Instead, he gave it to a police and emergency services charity called the Bluey Day Foundation, which in turn gave it to the hospital. In this way the money was scrubbed clean.

As far as I can discover, Chopper Read was never subject to proceeds of crime proceedings for his literary collaborations.

The other notable PoC case in recent memory was that commenced by the Commonwealth DPP, frantically egged on by Senator George (Bookshelves) Brandis and his PR team at The Australian against David Hicks over his book Guantanamo: My Journey.

One tiny problem arose. Hicks had been tortured by the Americans and his confession to the made-up and retrospectively applied offence of ''material support for terrorism'' was a product of that torture. Under Australian law the confession was not admissible because it was influenced by ''violent, oppressive, inhumane or degrading conduct''. The DPP had nowhere to go but withdraw the case.

Oddly, the AFP's newish proceeds of crime taskforce was less interested in the conviction of former top Tasmanian timber chopper John Gay from Gunns Ltd.

Last August he was convicted for insider trading in relation to the sale of $3.4 million worth of shares in Gunns.

He was fined $50,000 and struck off the jam roll of directors for five years.

''Following an evaluation of material in relation to this matter, a decision was made not to proceed with any proceeds of crime action,'' the AFP mysteriously announced.

The High Court in 2006 helpfully stepped in and made sure that proceeds from alleged insider trading, frozen by the court in Western Australia, could be released into the bank accounts of defence lawyers.

A couple of Perth business identities, operating at the innovative edge of the Australian economy with businesses called My Casino Ltd and, needed the money to defend the insider trading charges.

The government said during the second reading speech associated with amendments to the Proceeds of Crime Act: ''No frozen property can be released for payment of legal expenses.''

The High Court knows that you don't want to get between a lawyer and a bucket of money. It said that unfreezing the confiscated money for legal assistance is for the benefit not only of the individual concerned but also for the ''benefit of the public''.

A lot of the confiscated money is allocated for police-related purposes. As at 2011 the figures showed that since 1995 more than $108 million has been harvested at the federal level from the hard-earned takings of crims and suspected crims. It is then reallocated to various worthy causes, such as graffiti prevention and reduction programs run by local councils, Police Citizens Youth Clubs, and the fight against people trafficking. Indeed, the Australian Sex Workers Association received $350,000 under the 2012 proceeds of crime funding allocation to educate their colleagues about the dangers of sex slavery.

The federal police say they are not opposed to convicted people giving interviews. They object to paid interviews. This is a landmark victory for speech that is entirely free.

Twitter: @JustinianNews

Richard Ackland publishes the law journals Justinian and the Gazette of Law and Journalism. He writes a regular column on legal affairs, law and society and the media. He has been a journalist with The Australian Financial Review and a presenter of ABC TV's Media Watch and Radio National's Late Night Live and Breakfast programs.

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