Authorities have been battling gang violence for years in Melbourne. File photo/AFP
An Australian man jailed 12 years ago for a gangland murder was released on Friday after a court quashed his conviction, raising fears some of the nation’s most dangerous criminals could also walk free over a scandal in which their lawyer had secretly been a police informant.
Faruk Orman was the first in a potential flood of convicts to benefit from revelations that a prominent criminal lawyer, Nicola Gobbo, was feeding information to police while supposedly defending them.
Orman was sentenced in 2007 to 20 years in prison after being found guilty of driving the getaway car for the 2002 killing of mobster Victor Peirce, one of a spate of some 40 murders during a gangland war in Melbourne.
The case against him unravelled after it was revealed that Gobbo was not only a police informant but also the attorney representing the key witness who testified against him. Orman has always proclaimed his innocence.
The Victoria state court of appeal ruled on Friday that Gobbo’s actions amounted to “a substantial miscarriage of justice” and, on the recommendation of prosectors, quashed Orman’s murder conviction.
“On the facts conceded, Ms Gobbo’s conduct subverted Mr Orman’s right to a fair trial and went to the very foundation of the system of criminal trial,” the court said.
Orman, who always proclaimed his innocence of any role in the Peirce killing, said he was not leaving prison “bitter and angry.”
“I have been so lucky, throughout this experience, to have people who believed in me and fought for me,” he said in a written statement to the media.
The appeals court ruling is expected to be only the first of many as Gobbo represented a large number of defendants, including some of Australia’s most dangerous criminals, on charges ranging from drug trafficking to murder.
Her most prominent former client, top crime boss Tony Mokbel who is serving a 30-year sentence for drug trafficking, has also sought leave to appeal his conviction.
Prosecutors last year informed 22 people that they could have grounds to appeal.
But Gobbo — also referred to as Lawyer X and Informer 3838 — claims that at least 386 people were arrested and charged based on the information she provided, according to a June 2015 letter that was made public in December.
A Royal Commission of inquiry is currently underway to determine how many cases have been impacted by Gobbo’s double life during a period of intense gang bloodletting in Australia’s second-biggest city.
Gobbo was a key police source during the critical years of gangland prosecutions between 2005 and 2009, but was also registered as an informant as far back as 1995, two years before she was admitted to practice law.
She was recruited as a police informer after being charged with drug offences in 1993.
She received a good behaviour bond and no conviction was recorded, according to a police informant registration document tabled with the Royal Commission.
Victorian police spent five years and millions of dollars fighting in the courts to keep Gobbo’s identity a secret, maintaining that she could be murdered if it came to light.
In March, the High Court lifted the suppression order that had protected her anonymity, accusing her of “fundamental and appalling breaches” of her obligations as a lawyer, and accusing Victoria Police of “reprehensible conduct” for their role in the saga.
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