Sunday, May 27, 2012

Corrupt Victoria police again: Nightclub sues over 'revenge' raid

THE Victorian government faces a $2 million damages claim after a prominent Prahran nightclub was put out of business by an allegedly unlawful raid by liquor licensing inspectors, court documents reveal.

A former Responsible Alcohol Victoria (RAV) inspector has also stated that a senior Justice Department official admitted to staff that the raid on the club, White Charlie, was done "to f--- them over" after its owners clashed with inspectors on an earlier visit.

Nine RAV inspectors and four Victoria Police officers raided White Charlie on a busy Friday night in October 2010, after having obtained a search warrant from a magistrate on the basis that its owners were allegedly trading without a liquor licence.

The inspectors seized every drop of alcohol, surveillance cameras, cash registers, computers and entered an adjacent office to remove financial and personal documents. Although the club was not formally shut down, the seizures made it impossible for it to continue trading.

Documents lodged in the Supreme Court of Victoria show Liquor Licensing Victoria director Mark Brennan had extended the venue's licence for 60 days shortly before the raid took place.

RAV, which has since been subsumed into the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation, is alleged to have known about the extension before one of its inspectors swore an affidavit claiming the venue was trading without a licence in order to obtain a search warrant.

No charges have been laid against White Charlie's owners for trading without a licence in the 19 months since the raid. Despite this, alcohol, surveillance cameras, computers and other items seized have yet to be returned to the club's owners.

A statement of claim lodged by Cossari Smith Pty Ltd, the company which controlled White Charlie, accuses RAV inspectors of "misfeasance in public office", intentionally destroying its business and exercising power "with the knowledge that power did not exist".

The statement of claim also alleges:

* The search warrant was "invalidly issued" and "unlawfully executed".

* Inspectors seized items outside the scope of the warrant and trespassed "without lawful authority" on premises not identified in the warrant.

* Inspectors failed to bring seized items before an authorised court without delay as required by law.

* RAV told liquor suppliers after the raid and seizure of alcohol not to supply White Charlie because it did not have a licence, despite being aware its licence had been extended by Mr Brennan.

Although the claim does not nominate a specific figure, one of White Charlie's owners, Joe Cossari, told The Sunday Age he and his business partners were seeking up to $2 million in costs and damages.

Mr Cossari said RAV's actions had a "devastating financial impact" on the club's owners, as well as four full-time staff and 16 casual workers who lost their jobs as a result of the raid.

The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation declined to answer The Sunday Age's questions, with a spokeswoman citing the ongoing court action.

At the time of the raid, Cossari Smith Pty Ltd, owned by Mr Cossari and Victor Smith, had taken over the White Charlie business, including its liquor licence, via a mortgagee process after one of their other companies - which had previously operated the club and held the licence - went into voluntary administration.

White Charlie was in the process of being sold to third party, Nguyen Chapel Investments, when the raid occurred.

A former RAV inspector, who was aware of the planning process for the raid, has come forward to support Mr Cossari's allegations.

The former inspector, who requested anonymity, told The Sunday Age that RAV knew White Charlie's liquor licence had been extended for 60 days before the raid took place and therefore it was wrong to claim it was selling alcohol without a valid licence.

He also alleged the motivation for the raid was based on an earlier clash between a few RAV inspectors and White Charlie's owners.

In a meeting after the raid, the former inspector alleges a senior manager said to RAV staff: "Do you all know why we did this? It was because [an inspector] went there last week and they abused him and he came back to me and said, 'f--- them, they don't speak to me like that'. So, that's why we f---ed them over."


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