John Howard moves with practised ease towards the donors' table, shaking hands and mouthing pleasantries. He has no idea of the identity of the man who is turning and extending his hand.
Wearing an expensive suit, his tie slightly askew and with an ageing but handsome face, Tony Madafferi looks like any of the other businessmen and lobbyists gathered in a room overlooking the Yarra River, the glittering edifice of Crown casino visible from a window.
All are here to give money to the Liberal Party and to get close, however briefly, to Howard or his treasurer Peter Costello.
But Madafferi is no ordinary glad-hander.
Years later, he will be banned from stepping foot in Crown after Victoria's chief commissioner analyses two decades of allegations made against him in court and police files, including surveillance pictures and phone taps revealing Madafferi's deep ties to organised crime.
By the time of the meeting with Howard and other politicians (the photos come from among dozens of Madafferi that were taken during Liberal fundraising events in the early 2000s), he had, in allegations he denies, been named repeatedly in court as a crime figure.
The first adverse public reports about Madafferi – who has never been charged with an offence and denies any wrongdoing – date to the early 1990s, when he was named in two coronial inquests as a Mafia boss and suspected hitman.
In 1995, a major National Crime Authority Mafia inquiry, obtained by Fairfax Media and Four Corners, said: "Antonio Madafferi's ... membership of a secret society [linked to crime] must be considered as highly probable."
In the Federal Court in 2000, a police statement was aired which detailed his suspected involvement in "substantial" organised crime activities.
Tony Madafferi's name has come up again in recent years, this time over his close association and meetings, including a clandestine get-together in a city park, with Mafia drug traffickers behind the world's biggest ecstasy importation in 2007.
Many would like to bury the photos of the suspected gang boss meeting Australia's political leaders – and not only because Madafferi abhors publicity. The shots highlight an issue that politicians from both parties in Australia do not want to talk about: the way Australia's political donation system creates an environment in which cash buys access.
Howard did no more than briefly chat with Madafferi. But a small number of other Liberal figures have had far lengthier dealings with either this man or his associates, to the benefit of organised crime in Australia.
Some of these interactions were around Tony Madafferi's fight to overturn the Howard government's deportation of his brother, drug trafficker and ruthless Mafia criminal Frank. That was a fight the Madafferi family won.
The Liberal immigration minister who made the decision to give Frank Madafferi a visa, Amanda Vanstone, has also met brother his brother Tony. The meeting was again at a fundraising function – an event organised by Tony Madafferi in September 2004.
Three other Liberal MPs were present that day: Marise Payne, Bruce Billson and Russell Broadbent. Each had separately contacted Ms Vanstone in connection to the Madafferis' visa campaign after being approached by Liberal donors working for the Mafia-linked family.
A year later, in November 2005, Vanstone issued the visa.
This political intervention was apparently based on the argument that Frank Madafferi's deportation back to Italy – the country where he was convicted and jailed for violent extortion, Mafia conspiracy, stabbings, drugs and weapons offences – would unfairly impact on his wife and children.
But prior to the decision to give Frank Madafferi a visa, Victoria Police warned the federal government, in comments aired publicly and repeatedly in court cases, that if he was allowed to remain in Australia, he may harm the community by continuing "to carry out acts of violence on behalf of an organised criminal syndicate".
A 2009 federal police review of the Madafferi family's visa campaign described it as involving "a co-ordinated plan of lobbying".
"To ensure maximum coverage ... numerous people made approaches to two senators, three federal members of parliament and one state member of parliament," the report says. "Donations to the Liberal party were also made by these lobbyists. The senators and MPs were approached on humanitarian grounds and then in turn lobbied Amanda Vanstone on those grounds."
Questioned on her decision, Vanstone has insisted that she based it on humanitarian grounds.
But the fact that some of the lobbying conducted by Liberal MPs occurred after they were approached by donors, and the fact that some of these same MPs attended a Madafferi fundraiser, raises, at the very least, a perception of donations buying access to decision makers. How many genuine refugees without criminal convictions never get help from a politician, let alone the support of several MPs? In contrast, Madafferi's criminal record was extensive.
About 18 months after Vanstone gave him his visa on humanitarian grounds, Frank Madafferi was implicated in the world's biggest drug importation. In 2008 he was charged with drug trafficking (for which he was later jailed) and in 2009, with conspiracy to murder.
The Madafferi family's ability to get politicians to take an interest in their visa issue appears to be a textbook example of how power really works in Australia.
After John Howard won power in 1996, Tony Madafferi and his associates spent years cultivating contacts with Liberal figures, having earlier formed ties with Labor government MPs. They organised fundraisers, attended lunches and donated funds. The amount of money Madafferi and his associates generated for the Liberal Party is likely to be in the tens of thousands of dollars (records show one Madafferi company donated at least $23,000), although the true figure will never be known because of Australia's opaque fundraising disclosure laws.
Whatever the true amount, the donations helped provide access. Long-time party donors and fundraising events were used as Trojan horses – a means by which Madafferi and his associates could get close to ministers.
A law enforcement report describes the Madafferi visa affair as a "case study [that] highlights the insidious ways that 'Ndrangheta [Calabrian Mafia] Transnational Australian Group enter the social or professional world of public officials and through legitimate processes achieve influence".
Some politicians sniffed a rat. Around 2003, an astute staffer in John Howard's office warned the then prime minister that an associate of Madafferi, political donor and alleged Mafia associate Pat Sergi, might be at a fundraiser. Sergi was once named in a royal commission as a Mafia money launderer.
The prime minister never showed up. When Kevin Rudd was prime minister, he also was warned to leave a fundraiser that was attended by Madafferi and several other alleged Mafia figures.
"Rudd disappeared before anyone could say hello," recalls an attendee.
Bruce Billson told Fairfax Media he was "deceived" by the Liberal donor and relative of Frank Madafferi who got Billson to lobby on the visa case on humanitarian grounds, but did not tell the MP about Madafferi's Mafia activities.
"The request made of me for assistance … was a contrived veneer covering a far darker and disturbing situation," he said.
Billson also says that after he learnt more about the matter, he "ceased contact with all parties involved and stridently expressed my bitter disappointment" to the Liberal donor.
It was Pat Sergi, the alleged Mafia money launderer and political donor to both parties, who approached Payne to intervene in the Madafferi visa case. Payne also flew to Melbourne to attend the Madafferi fundraising function.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Ms Payne said she had "no knowledge, or any cause to be aware of, any criminal associations in relation to those constituents at the time".
Russell Broadbent failed to respond to repeated efforts to get him to answer questions about the case.
Broadbent, though, appears to have deeper ties to Madafferi and his associates than any of his Liberal colleagues.
The federal police investigated the Madafferi donations and lobbying, but stated the "nexus between those donations identified and any political leverage could not be substantiated".
They were, in part, blinded by Australia's inadequate disclosure regime. Their inquiry, recently obtained under freedom of information laws, warned that police had found "numerous issues relating to the disclosure of donations to political parties". These "issues" meant investigators have limited oversight of who was donating how much, and why.
"A trend was identified where donors would pay a large fee for entrance to a political fundraiser which was not disclosed," the police report says. "Another example was a raffle where a car was donated as a prize and then tickets sold for $1000 each. A money bucket if left out at a function can be filled with anonymous donations.
"Political donations will most likely remain a contentious issue. While political donations are paid, there will always be scope for potential corruption."
Then, for an Australian public interested in having a clean and fair political system, came the killer line.
"It is difficult to identify any bribery in the form of political donations if the recording of those donations is limited."
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