29 March 2023

Courgette's money-laundering chef James Mussillon 'caught up in a criminal web'

| Albert McKnight
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James Daniel Mussillon

James Daniel Mussillon, 51, approaches court for his sentencing hearing. Photo: Albert McKnight.

The famed chef from Canberra’s award-winning restaurant Courgette laundered money as he felt he was “caught up in a criminal web” he was unable to escape, the ACT Supreme Court has been told.

James Daniel Mussillon laundered money for an alleged cannabis dealer for several years, court documents say. He was given hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash by the man, then paid him back through his business in electronic transfers disguised as payment for wages.

This created an expenditure that would reduce his profits and meant the 51-year-old’s company would pay less tax, Crown prosecutor Keegan Lee told the ACT Supreme Court at the chef’s sentencing hearing on Wednesday (29 March).

But a forensic psychiatrist, Associate Professor Andrew Carroll from the Swinburne University of Technology, thought the financial element was not front and centre in the offending.

“It was much more that he felt caught up in a criminal web that he felt unable to extricate himself from,” he said.

“It very much seemed to me that unlike some white collar offending, this could not be simply explained by financial greed … there were also other factors at play. In my opinion, his social incompetence was one of those factors.

“He was feeling in too deep with persons who were unlike him, very embedded in the underworld.”

Dr Carroll said Mussillon did not have friends outside of work and he had diagnosed him with autism and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“But for his social incompetence, Mr Mussillon wouldn’t have gotten himself into this bother in the first place,” he said.

“He was running a successful business, it wasn’t clear to me that he had the need to gain extra money from such behaviour.”

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Defence barrister Matthew Johnston SC said it was not alleged that his client was involved in the drug dealing that led to the money laundering and the main purpose of the offending was “to wash the money for the benefit” of the alleged drug dealer, a person who was “on the books as a false employee”.

He raised how Mussillon helped the man buy a Lamborghini and said “that’s the nature of the relationship”, as his client would get “leant on” to assist when there was no benefit to him.

“He gets the headache of having the Lamborghini in his name, but he doesn’t get to use it,” Mr Johnston said.

He asked for Justice David Mossop to sentence Mussillon, who he said was working again, to an intensive corrections order, which is a community-based sentence.

Mr Lee argued for a sentence with full-time custody, saying, “someone in this position is really integral to this type of sophisticated, organised crime”.

He said drug dealers “need people like Mr Mussillon to help launder their money”.

He also said the submission that Mussillon had difficulty extricating himself from the “web” was “something that was effectively over-egged” by the chef.

Justice Mossop has reserved his decision and will hand down his sentence in the future.

James Mussillon (left) approaches court with his solicitor, Tom Taylor

James Mussillon (left) approaches court with his solicitor, Tom Taylor of Hugo Law Group. Photo: Albert McKnight.

In March 2022, Mussillon pleaded guilty to charges of money laundering, perjury, making false evidence, general dishonesty influencing a public official as well as obtaining property by deception and was released on bail.

He spent seven-and-a-half months in custody after his arrest in August 2021.

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Mussillon’s co-offender, Wing Hei Leung, admitted dealing with $153,600 cash that was the proceeds of crime from drug supply and repeatedly lying to police about the money, even signing a document produced by Mussillon that purported it was for a loan.

The 41-year-old, who co-owns The Scholar Restaurant, pleaded guilty to charges of dealing with property suspected to be the proceeds of crime as well as general dishonesty in February 2023 and was handed a 12-month intensive corrections order.

The alleged drug dealer, who is legally unable to be named, has pleaded not guilty to his charges and is awaiting trial.

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