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MALCOLM Turnbull unwittingly had lunch with self-professed mafia front man Joseph Acquaro, who years later was shot dead outside his Brunswick East ice-cream parlour.
The Herald Sun can confirm Mr Acquaro joined the then Opposition Leader at a fundraising lunch for Liberal MP Russell Broadbent at Box restaurant in Collins St in late 2008. Others present included fruit mogul Tony Madafferi, brother of jailed drug trafficker Frank Madafferi, and Joe Mirabella, of Mirabella lighting.
Mr Acquaro told the Herald Sun, just months before his execution, that he had spent decades “lobbying’’ politicians for the mafia and other businessmen. He said he had met with Mr Turnbull in 2008, at a lunch organised by Mr Broadbent. He said he lobbied both sides of politics on behalf of Calabrian businessmen including Tony Madafferi, who was a well-known donor to the Liberal Party.
The mob lawyer, who in 2015 became aware he had an alleged $200,000 contract on his life, was gunned down on the footpath near his ice-cream parlour. He was shot five times by an unknown assassin.
He had spoken to the Herald Sun several times in the months leading up to his death, and said the meeting with Mr Madafferi and Mr Turnbull had occurred in Melbourne’s parliamentary precinct.
The Herald Sun does not suggest there was anything improper in these meetings. But in the middle of an election campaign, the revelations will again bring scrutiny to the vexed issue of political donations, and what access donors can get to politicians.
Mr Turnbull’s spokesman said the Prime Minister remembered the lunch, but not the guests’ names.
“The Prime Minister recalls attending a fundraiser lunch for Russell Broadbent in Melbourne in 2008 with a number of Mr Broadbent’s local supporters,’’ the spokesman said.
“The Prime Minister does not recall the names of Mr Broadbent’s guests.
“As far as Joe Mirabella is concerned, the Prime Minister does recall meeting him while Environment Minister in 2007 in the context of the Howard government’s decision to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by switching away from energy inefficient incandescent bulbs.
“The Prime Minister does not recall the names of any other associates of Mr Mirabella.’’
Mr Broadbent, who confirmed Mr Madafferi had made political donations, initially told the Herald Sun he could not recall “specific meetings between Joe (Acquaro) and any senior person.’’
“Look, I’m sure there’s been lots of meetings that Mr Turnbull has attended with lots of people, and I wouldn’t have any comment on that at all,’’ he said.
“I don’t want to make any comment on Joe. I think it’s an absolute tragedy that he’s died. I think it’s very, very sad.’’
But on Sunday he confirmed that he did in fact recall the lunch, at the restaurant Box on Collins.
He confirmed Mr Acquaro, Mr Madafferi and Mr Mirabella attended.
“Joe Mirabella pulled this one together,’’ he said.
Mr Broadbent said he had a “standing situation’’ with Mr Turnbull that would see the Opposition Leader attend a fundraising lunch if he had the time when in Melbourne.
“He did it a number of times,’’ he said.
“Malcolm knew Joe (Mirabella), he’d previously met Joe.’’
Asked to describe his relationship with Mr Madafferi, Mr Broadbent replied: “He’s a donor and we have been friendly for a long period of time.
“I take people as I see them.’’
Mr Broadbent said he “hadn’t done anything wrong’’ and resented the implication that he had by attending Liberal Party fundraisers.
“I haven’t seen him (Mr Acquaro) for a long time.
“The association I had with him, he was another personality in the crowds.’’
In 2014, Tony Madafferi would be excluded from Crown Casino by then police chief commissioner Ken Lay, and the following year he would be approached by organised crime taskforce detectives about an alleged contract on Mr Acquaro’s life.
Documents and photographs obtained by the Herald Sun expose the extent of Mr Acquaro and Tony Madafferi’s political connections.
Mr Acquaro, however, had said those connections were severed after he had a bitter fallout with the Madafferi brother three years ago.
In several pictures, taken by Mr Acquaro on the day of the federal Budget in either 2005 or 2006, Toni Madafferi and another Calabrian businessmen are seated in the Member’s Dining Room in Parliament House in Canberra with Mr Broadbent, and in another photograph, now-Environment Minister Greg Hunt.
Mr Hunt has previously said he had been introduced to Tony Madafferi a decade ago but had no contact with him for about six years.
Tony Madafferi, and uncle Vince Madafferi, are in the photos.
“They came to lunch that day. I didn’t know they were in the building. They arrived unannounced in my office with Lou Gazzola who is a highly respected former chairman of the Victorian Vegetable Growers Association,’’ Mr Broadbent said.
“I have a long-time relationship with the Italian community because I was born at Koo Wee Rup.
“Of course I would offer any hospitality to Lou and the people with him.’’
Mr Acquaro, the former president of the Italian Chamber of Commerce, claimed he was the link for Tony Madafferi to gain political influence.
A series of letters, obtained by the Herald Sun, also reveals Mr Acquaro lobbied Liberal MPs on behalf of Mr Madafferi and other Calabrian businessmen.
In 2003, he wrote to Adam Joseph, a staff member for Liberal senator Marise Payne, as he worked towards getting Frank Madafferi’s deportation order overturned.
Frank Madafferi was refused a renewed residency visa on character grounds, but the then immigration minister, Amanda Vanstone, revoked the order on humanitarian grounds after she was lobbied by some of her colleagues, including Mr Broadbent.
The incident was investigated by the Australian Federal Police who probed at least three federal Liberal MPs, with the corruption inquiry finding there was insufficient evidence that the donors had influenced the MPs.
Frank Madafferi was later convicted for his part in a mafia syndicate that imported the world’s biggest ecstasy haul in 2008. He will be deported when his jail term expires.