Sun, May 18, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Australian fugitive returns from Greece to face murder trial

AP , MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

Australian fugitive Tony Mokbel arrived in his home country yesterday after being extradited from Greece and was taken immediately to a high-security prison to await trial for alleged drug trafficking and two killings.

Mokbel arrived in a jet chartered by the Australian government and was accompanied by a team of Victoria state and Australian Federal Police officers.

Security was tight at Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport ahead of the flight’s arrival, with the destination and timing kept secret amid fears Mokbel could be a target for violence. He was transported to Barwon Prison outside the southern city.

“Given the history of Mokbel, you can understand why police wanted to have a very high level of security, for their own protection and the protection of the operation,” Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus told Sky News television.

He said Mokbel would face 18 criminal charges.

Victoria police said Mokbel appeared in an out-of-sessions hearing before a bail justice at the prison on charges of two counts of murder, failing to appear and multiple drug trafficking charges.

They said he would appear in court Tuesday.

Mokbel, 42, was arrested on an Interpol warrant near Athens last year after skipping bail in 2006 during a cocaine smuggling trial in Australia. He was convicted in absentia and sentenced to up to 12 years in prison.

Mokbel also has been charged with killing Melbourne underworld figure Lewis Moran and drug dealer Michael Marshall, and is accused of a string of other drug offenses.

Mokbel has said he is innocent and fought extradition, arguing he could not get a fair trial in Australia. His defense team has said senior police and government officials have publicly blamed Mokbel for crimes of which he has not been convicted.

Mokbel has been held in Greece’s maximum-security Korydallos prison in western Athens. In March, Greece’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling to extradite Mokbel, who had been sentenced to a year for entering the country with a forged passport.

Justice Minister Sotiris Hadjigakis approved Australia’s extradition request on May 7.

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