Melbourne police hold 'gang boss' after spate of killings

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The Independent Online

Armed police in Melbourne mounted dawn raids yesterday to arrest underworld figures alleged to have been plotting the latest in a series of killings that have shattered the city's chic, café-culture image.

Armed police in Melbourne mounted dawn raids yesterday to arrest underworld figures alleged to have been plotting the latest in a series of killings that have shattered the city's chic, café-culture image.

Carl Williams - said to be the city's key mobster - and three other men were in custody last night after being charged with conspiracy to murder. The main operation centred on a city cemetery. Loaded guns, walkie-talkies and a can of petrol were found at the scene.

Mr Williams, who has denied any involvement in Melbourne's spate of murders, has been the main target of the police taskforce, known as Purana. He was already on bail over charges of drug trafficking and threatening to kill a Purana detective and his partner.

There have been 25 gangland killings in the city since 1998 - 11 of them linked to a single turf war between crime bosses.

Detectives are believed to have been aware of an alleged murder plot for at least a week before yesterday's operation.

Police say it was part of an elaborate payback over the shooting of Andrew "Benji" Veniamin in a restaurant on 23 March. An underworld figure, Mick Gatto, has been charged with Veniamin's murder.

Mr Gatto, a former heavyweight boxer, is thought to have a A$250,000 (£103,000) bounty on his head. He calmly waited in the restaurant until police arrived and told them he had killed the famously volatile Veniamin in self-defence.

Police say the intended target of the latest alleged plot is a close friend of Mr Gatto. But Melbourne Police's assistant commissioner, Simon Overland, asked the media not to name the intended victim, saying it might affect continuing police operations. The four men were all remanded to appear at Melbourne magistrates' court this morning. A fifth man was charged with drug offences and bailed to appear in July.

One bystander, who lives opposite the cemetery where the main raid took place, described yesterday's events to Melbourne's The Age newspaper. "All of a sudden there were police cars everywhere," he said.

The witness added that police officers "got hold of two guys, they handcuffed both of them. One of them was lying prone on the footpath, the other had his back to the road. One of them was crying".

Melbourne's gang history dates back to the 1920s, and particularly violent spats centred on the city's fruit and vegetable markets and construction unions in the 1960s and 1970s. The latest violence is understood to be centred on the amphetamines trade.

Not only has the violence exposed Melbourne's seedy side, it has added to fears that the underworld menace has been allowed to flourish because of widespread police corruption. Throughout the 1990s, Victoria Police's drug squad carried out a high-risk policy of manufacturing its own amphetamines in an attempt to break into the city's network of dealers. Allegations of corruption have already resulted in 14 officers being charged with crimes ranging from drug trafficking and money laundering to theft of speed, ecstasy and LSD.

Mr Williams' wife, Roberta, visited police headquarters twice yesterday. Asked by local reporters if she had a comment after her second visit, she said: "I've had a stressful day and I'm not in the mood."

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