11 November 2022

Ben Aulich police sting involved 'clearest' entrapment imaginable, barrister claims

| Albert McKnight
Two men in suits

Ben Aulich (right) departs court with his partner in his firm, Peter Woodhouse, on Thursday. Photo: Albert McKnight.

The police investigation into top Canberra lawyer Ben Aulich involved the “clearest” entrapment imaginable, his barrister claimed as the legal proceedings against him continued.

Mr Aulich and accountant Michael Anthony Papandrea are alleged to have been involved in a conspiracy to launder the proceeds of selling cigarettes, which were to be illegally imported into the country by an undercover police officer, through a supermarket.

The amount expected to be made from this alleged enterprise was about $100,000 a month, or $1.2 million a year, the ACT Magistrates Court has already heard.

The case returned to the court for contested committal proceedings on Thursday (10 November) where Mr Aulich’s barrister, David Campbell SC, argued there was “not a jot of evidence” to justify the granting of a major controlled operation into the defendants in the first place.

Mr Campbell alleged the aim of the operation was to use $100,000 to create an offence and implicate his client in it, which was “the clearest and most profound instance of entrapment imaginable”.

He said any money in the matter was provided by the undercover operatives to the defendants as part of a “fictitious process” and alleged the operation involved illegal conduct.

Sam Pararajasingham, the barrister for Mr Papandrea, said it was in the interests of justice that both his client and Mr Aulich had a “full grasp” of what was against them ahead of a trial.

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He said a major consideration in the case will be the state of mind of the officers involved and whether they did anything recklessly.

Mr Pararajasingham ran through records of conversations between the two defendants and the first undercover officer (UCO1) in 2020, which he said showed the trio had been in general discussions about hypothetical and underdeveloped business ideas.

In several discussions between July and August, he said the trio discussed tomato cans as well as a restaurant, hairdresser, supermarket, “little gallery” and panel beaters.

Michael Anthony Papandrea leaves court on Thursday. Photo: Albert McKnight.

Mr Pararajasingham also raised a conversation between Mr Papandrea, UCO1 and the second undercover officer (UCO2) on 23 October 2020, in which he alleged UCO1 introduced an “urgency” into their discussion and UCO2 tried to “push the venture forwards”.

For instance, he claimed UCO2 said, “We are looking to move the cash as quick as possible”.

In another conversation in which he alleged UCO2 took on an “active and persistent role”, he argued a question arose over whether the officer’s conduct fell outside the constraints of the operation.

Also, in a conversation from 10 November 2020, he alleged UCO2 actively drew his client into the arrangement.

But Mark Tedeschi KC claimed the defence barristers’ applications were “misconceived”.

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Mr Tedeschi claimed the barristers said they could not identify any illegality or how an entrapment occurred in the operation, so “they want to go on a fishing expedition” and explore the possibility that there might be something illegal. He asked for the defence’s applications to be dismissed.

Magistrate Michael Crompton said as there was “quite a lot of material” in the debate he would reserve his decision and announce it on 16 January 2023.

Mr Aulich and Mr Papandrea have both been charged with conspiracy, while the former has also been charged with recruiting people to engage in criminal activity in the alternative and has pleaded not guilty. Bail was continued.

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