Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mere slaps on the wrist for serious criminals in NSW

Carrying and using handguns is OK if you are a Lebanese Muslim

In the middle of the afternoon of November 29, 2006, four hard men from the Lebanese community had a business meeting at the corner of Burwood Road and Livingstone Street, not far from the centre of the Burwood shopping centre. The meeting did not go well.

Bashar Ibrahim, a relative of the Ibrahim brothers, some of whom have been involved in multiple violent crimes, allegedly including a fatal brawl in an arrival hall at Sydney Airport this year, was accompanied to the meeting by George Youssef. They were meeting a leader of another notorious Lebanese family, Hussein Fahda, who was accompanied by a Mr Moustapha. After a brief and unpleasant exchange, Fahda punched Ibrahim in the face. The blow was so hard it broke Ibrahim's cheek and jaw.

Fahda spoke to Moustapha in Arabic, telling him, "Get it from the car". He then turned to Ibrahim and said, "I want to shoot you". Moustapha went to the car, pulled out an object, believed to be a gun, and tucked it into his trousers. Fahda then taunted Ibrahim, saying "Shoot me". So Ibrahim shot him. He pulled out a gun and fired five quick shots, one of which struck Fahda in the foot.

Ibrahim and Youssef ran to their car and departed. Fahda was driven to a hospital, where bullet fragments were removed from his foot. He declined to provide details of the incident to the hospital or police.

This did not surprise the police. Fahda was well known to them. In 2004, he had been arrested and jailed for carrying a loaded gun during an undercover investigation into drug dealing and a series of shootings. The violence swirled around three Lebanese Muslim clans, the Darwiches, the Razzaks and the Fahdas, elements of whom have been engaged in a murderous feud since 2001. The feud continues.

Back at the Burwood incident, after Ibrahim shot Fahda he fled the scene in his Range Rover. He left the vehicle with his wife, Laura Cathery. She had it cleaned and when the police called she claimed the car could not have been at the scene of shooting because she had been using it all day. She was found to be lying after police checked phone records and CCTV footage.

After leaving the Range Rover, Ibrahim and Youssef drove to Sylvania Heights to the home of a friend, Parrai Bitsikas, where Ibrahim intended to avoid the police and Hussein Fahda. But Bitsikas was under observation by another police unit, the drug squad. Police quickly became aware that Bitsikas was covertly arranging for treatment of Ibrahim's broken jaw.

The case assembled by the police was overwhelming. But the back-up they received from the legal system was far from impressive. Earlier this month, the following sentences were handed down by magistrate Caroline Barkell:

Bashar Ibrahim pleaded guilty to one charge of possession of an unauthorised firearm and was sentenced to four months in prison. He also pleaded guilty to one charge of firing a firearm in a public place in a manner likely to injure. For that he was sentenced to 12 months in prison, with a non-parole period of nine months. He remains free on bail and magistrate Barkell indicated it was likely Ibrahim could serve his sentences as home detention.

Laura Cathery pleaded guilty to one count of hindering a police investigation. She was placed on a good behaviour bond for two years. Parrai Bitsikas pleaded guilty to being an accessory to the crime. He received a 12-month suspended jail sentence upon entering into a good behaviour bond. George Youssef also pleaded guilty to being an accessory to the crime and received a 12-month suspended jail sentence.

After the sentencing, the police noted that this brazen collective chorus of deceit had resulted in not one day of jail time being handed down at sentence. They are also mindful that in March an innocent man was killed during another violent daytime argument between another set of armed and violent Lebanese men.

And last month Bob Knight, a 66-year-old truck driver, died when a volley of shots was fired in the car park of a KFC restaurant in Milperra. A stray bullet hit Knight in the head and killed him.

The police see a clear parallel with the Burwood shooting involving Ibrahim and Fahda. They believe, as a principle, there should be serious consequences when people carry illegal guns and start using them. The obvious and exceptional mitigating factor in this incident was Fahda's own violent behaviour. Ibrahim was acting in self-defence. But why did he bring a gun to the meeting? And why did he lie to police?

As for the "victim", Hussein Fahda, he has been of acute interest to police since March when his younger brother, Mohammed, was confirmed by police as the prime suspect in the shooting murder of Abdul Darwiche at Punchbowl. Members of the Darwiche and Fahda families have been under police scrutiny ever since.

Tomorrow, in court, magistrate Barkell will get the chance to reconsider whether she should send Bashar Ibrahim to prison over this incident. I'm presuming this matter is back in court because the Crown might share the dismay of the police at the feathery sentences handed down.

One message that could be taken from the case is this: why would any idealistic young person want to join the police force when the legal system constantly treats contempt for police with dismissive indifference? This entire case was a brazen challenge to the criminal justice system. As of today, it remains a victory for the cynicism of street law.


Endemic misbehaviour and corruption in a NSW government-owned company

And lots of hush money to cover it up. Irresponsible bureaucracy at work. Why should they worry? It's other people's money they are spending

A STATE Government-owned electricity company has paid hush money to stop employees speaking out about breaches of safety, bullying and harassment. Whistle-blowers have told The Sunday Telegraph that Country Energy approved at least two payments worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to quash scandals.

A woman employee was allegedly paid $200,000 after claiming discrimination when her male colleagues visited a "gentlemen's club" on a night out in Melbourne. Another employee was paid $140,000 after making serious allegations against a union delegate. In another incident, a senior employee was promoted despite allegedly climbing into a female colleague's bed on a work trip, clad only in his underpants. Former and current employees of Country Energy approached The Sunday Telegraph in a bid to have an inquiry launched.

The claims have surfaced as Finance Minister Joe Tripodi tries to sell the group to plug a Budget hole. Country Energy, Australia's biggest power retailer, supplies electricity to 95 per cent of NSW and operates in six states and territories. It is due to be sold, along with EnergyAustralia and Integral Energy, at the end of this year.

A senior company official said there was a culture of cover-ups, payouts and lack of accountability in the organisation. In one case, a call-centre employee claimed her boss, wearing only his underpants, climbed into her bed after a company awards night in August last year. A confidential report into the incident, obtained by this newspaper, states the woman was one of five employees who booked an overnight apartment in Sydney for the Australian Teleservice Association Awards. The woman, a mother of two, alleges she was awoken about 8am by the manager, who crawled into her bed in his underpants. "(The manager) asked me to move over so he could get in 'because I'm freezing'," the report says. "I told him 'No' and sat up on the edge of the bed. He then said: 'I'm freezing, cuddle me."'

The report, dated August 17, recommended the manager be disciplined and given a final written warning. Three months later, he was given a $22,000 pay rise, taking his salary to $138,000. He was also placed on a prestigious employee leadership development program run by the company. Defending the promotion, the company described the behaviour of the manager since the incident as having been exemplary.

In another case, a female staffer was bitten on the arm by a male employee during a function at the company's Queanbeyan offices. The accused male resigned after an investigation and received his award entitlements.

Sources said another woman received an estimated $200,000 after allegedly making a complaint of discrimination after a work function held in Melbourne. It is alleged the woman and three male staff visited a gentlemen's club, which did not allow her in. Country Energy claimed it was unaware of the incident, although it confirmed a female staffer had described a visit to the Melbourne Savage Club about four years ago as having been sexist.

A retail marketing manager is alleged to have been paid out last August after making a complaint when she was the only person not invited to a staff dinner. The company claimed the manager accepted a voluntary redundancy after a review that found her position was no longer required. A senior employee said: "They all just get paid out or are forced to leave. It's getting out of hand. There is no accountability."

Among the more serious allegations are those levelled against a delegate of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), of which NSW ALP president Bernie Riordan is a secretary. Most Country Energy employees are ETU members.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) received a complaint against the employee. Country Energy conducted an investigation and referred the findings to ICAC, which decided not to investigate. Further complaints against the man, however, led to a second investigation by the Internal Audit Bureau, a State Government watchdog. An email outlining the terms of reference for this investigation, obtained by The Sunday Telegraph, included allegations the ETU delegate worked under the influence of alcohol, engaged in bullying behaviour, altered time sheets, dealt fraudulently with scrap metal and committed safety breaches. The email was sent to the bureau by Country Energy chief risk officer Lawrence Clark in February this year.

In April, the man was moved from his position as a team leader in the company's Tamworth office to a non-supervisory role. Country Energy sources allege the whistle-blower, who has since left the organisation, hired a private lawyer and was paid out about $140,000.

The company claims a Tamworth office employee resigned after himself being the subject of misconduct allegations and received his award entitlements. The allegations come as Country Energy faces paying almost $1 million in entitlements after NSW Treasury found it was employing full-time staff as contractors. It has denied employees are being paid hush money.


The ugly face of Telstra just got uglier

The new boss of Telstra is clearly no better than the greasy Mexican

TELSTRA customers who pay their phone bills in person will soon be charged for their efforts. The telco giant yesterday introduced a range of steep fees in an attempt to herd its customers into making online BPAY payments and to eliminate costly face-to-face customer service, The Daily Telegraph reports.

The penny-pinching tactic will cost as much as 2 per cent of every bill and is set to save it "several hundred million dollars" a year. From September 14, Telstra will charge a $2.20 administration fee for bills paid by mail or in person at a Telstra Shop or Australia Post. The telco's existing credit card payment processing fee will also rise to 1 per cent of the payment amount for MasterCard, VISA, and American Express cards, and 2 per cent for Diners Club.

However, so as not to penalise elderly customers, Telstra will exempt those with a pensioner or disability card from paying the new fees or credit card charges. Telstra Pensioner Discount customers or customers who have already registered their eligible pensioner card details with Telstra for the credit card payment processing fee discount are automatically exempt as are Telstra Disability Equipment Program product customers or those registered for another Telstra Disability Service.

All customers who pay their bills through an online savings or cheque account will also be exempt from the fees.

The telco said the fees were consistent with industry practice. "Every year we spend hundreds of millions of dollars on billing, which includes processing bill payments, paying third-party billing service providers, answering customers' questions about their bills and operating systems to support billing," Telstra Consumer Executive Director Jenny Young said. "We're introducing or changing our fees for some payment options which incur higher administration costs. "However, Telstra will always be conscious of customers who are experiencing hardship."

Ms Young said for customers with more than one Telstra service, the changes represented a chance to move these services on to a single bill to avoid fees if customers choose bill payment options that incur fees.

Since taking over Australia's largest telecommunications company in May, chief executive David Thodey talked openly about Telstra's tattered public image which has been crystallised by its increasingly poor customer service. A Telstra spokesman said yesterday the introduction of new payment fees would not contribute to a further erosion of public confidence in the telco. [Who does he think he is kidding?]


What Australian wine drinkers like best


Try saying the phrase "shiraz socialist" five times fast after a couple of glasses of pinot noir. The inherent pronunciation difficulties may explain why certain politicians persist with the phrase "chardonnay socialist" as their preferred term of abuse, even though it reveals their utter ignorance of what most Australians actually drink.

The implication within "chardonnay socialist" is that the accused pretends to have working class sympathies but actually has elitist tastes. It was coined in the 1980s, when chardonnay was an expensive novelty favoured by businessmen desperate to display their wealth. The theory was that true Aussies drink beer or, at worst, cask plonk containing no identifiable grape. Anyone who drinks differently must be unAustralian.

Unbeknownst to conservative politicians, the insult had lost its sting by the early noughties, when Queen Adelaide chardonnay was revealed as the beverage of choice for millions of people who met all other definitions of real, normal, average, decent, patriotic Aussies.

Is chardonnay still part of our national identity? Disturbing rumours about changes in our drinking habits provoked this column to check the latest data from the Bureau of Statistics and the research organisation AC Nielsen. Here's what emerged ...

Wine consumption: The average Australian over the age of 15 drinks 28.3 litres of wine a year (up from 28.1 in 2006). That's the equivalent of five glasses a week, of which three would be white and two would be red.

Favourite styles: The most-planted white grape in this country is still chardonnay, while the most planted red grape is shiraz. But most-planted is not the same as most-purchased, which turns out like this ...

The national reds: Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Shiraz, Pepperjack Shiraz.

The national bubblies: Yellowglen Yellow Sparkling, Jacob's Creek Chardonnay Pinot.

The national whites: Oyster Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Giesen Sauvignon Blanc.

Hang on a minute. Oyster Bay and Giesen are both from New Zealand. So in this year's wine purchases, Australians are propping up an enemy economy by replacing elitist chardys with foreign savvys (as the New Zealanders insist on calling them).

It's a national disaster. Apparently we're so jaded by the Barossa, the Hunter and the Margaret River that we seek novelties an ocean away. Don't panic. Help is on its way. Oddly enough, the good news, like the bad news, comes from across the Tasman - but not over that way, down that way.

Tasmania is about to launch an attack on the mainland with a view to reclaiming control of our wine tastes. Next month a travelling roadshow called Tasmania Unbottled 2009, representing 30 of our south island's bravest winemakers, will invade Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. The Tasmanians know it will take a while to wean us off weedy kiwi sauvignon blancs, so their first weapon of choice will be bubbles, followed by a blitzkrieg of pinot noirs (for more information, go here) .

To support them (and the economy), our politicians will need to create a new term of abuse for those who are drinking against the national interest. How about "savvy-wankers"?


No comments: