21 May 2024

Illegal cigarette conspiracy allegations against top lawyer Ben Aulich go to contested committal

| Albert McKnight

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

Top Canberra lawyer Ben Aulich has taken his fight against charges involving an alleged illegal cigarette conspiracy to a contested committal hearing, in which his legal team pointed out difficulties in the case against him.

Posing as a person called ‘Alex Torosian’, an undercover police officer had sought legal advice from Mr Aulich as he claimed police had seized $100,000 in cash from him, also allegedly telling the lawyer that the money was the result of him importing illegal cigarettes from China to Sydney, court documents say.

Mr Torosian allegedly told Mr Aulich, and later an accountant called Michael Anthony Papandrea, that he earned about $100,000 cash each month from the illegal importation and sale of cigarettes.

It is alleged Mr Aulich offered to represent Mr Torosian and had police return the money to him, then also offered to help him launder both this $100,000 and the money he earned each month from illegal cigarettes.

Mr Aulich introduced Mr Torosian to Mr Papandrea, then the two allegedly came up with a scheme in which Mr Torosian would buy a supermarket to be partly paid for in cash. Mr Torosian would then allegedly be able to launder the proceeds of crime through the business.

The amount expected to be made from this alleged enterprise was about $1.2 million a year.

READ ALSO Glenn Walewicz’s killer gets 13 years’ jail for shooting him ‘without knowing who he was’

Mr Aulich, 51, and Mr Papandrea, 57, have both been charged with conspiracy. The former has also been charged with recruiting people to engage in criminal activity in the alternative and has pleaded not guilty.

Last year, all of the most recent legal applications by the defendants to investigate the police sting against them were dismissed, and the case proceeded to a contested committal hearing, which began in the ACT Magistrates Court on Monday (20 May).

In written submissions, Mr Aulich’s barrister, David Campbell SC, said the prosecution had been “unwilling or unable” to identify a single date on which his client entered the alleged conspiracy, claiming it was between 8 May and 16 December 2020.

“This is not easy to understand, given that the prosecution only alleges two conspirators, being the accused and Mr Papandrea, but maintains that Mr Papandrea entered into the conspiracy on or about 31 July 2020,” he said.

Michael Anthony Papandrea has had his bail continued. Photo: Albert McKnight.

He said a conspiracy required an agreement between at least two people and Mr Aulich was the only other person alleged to have conspired with Mr Papandrea. Mr Torosian was not alleged to be a co-conspirator as he was a police officer.

Mr Campbell said the prosecution case did not support an allegation that the defendants intended to deal with the illegal money themselves. He told Mr Aulich that he didn’t intend to enter into any agreement with Mr Papandrea to launder money.

“I couldn’t set up stuff that I know is illegal,” Mr Aulich said during a meeting on 31 July 2020 with Mr Papandrea and Mr Torosian.

Mr Campbell argued that there was no prospect of a jury finding either defendant guilty of conspiracy, and his client should be discharged of both charges.

READ ALSO Five police officers sue for $1.4 million, claim they were defamed by Shane Drumgold

But prosecutor Mark Tedeschi KC told the court that it was not a case of entrapment because while Mr Torosian had allegedly gone to Mr Aulich with his “problem”, being $100,000 in cash from illegal cigarettes, he claimed it was the lawyer and Mr Papandrea who came up with the “solution”.

He alleged Mr Papandrea had been involved in the discussions around selecting the appropriate business and even told Mr Torosian how to generate fake cash in a business to launder money.

“He gives him the nuts and bolts of how it’s going to be done,” he alleged.

Mr Tedeschi claimed Mr Aulich referred to putting Mr Torosian “on the grid”, which he argued was a euphemism for making the cash legal.

The prosecutor alleged it was not a case of the defendants helping a client and then “washing their hands of it” but to set him up in a business to launder money.

Special Magistrate Sean Ritcher will hand down his decision on 15 August. Bail was continued.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.