The court heard that Hamzy’s business pursuits included importing designer sneakers from Asia and a fruit grown year-round in South America. He is involved in the distribution of a large number of bathroom accessories. He sought an interest in Burwood’s property development and sought a “$100,000-a-month opportunity” to buy a stake in a Peruvian nightclub. Bottled water, agriculture and real estate investments in Belize, Central America are also under consideration.
Hamzy’s attorney, Dennis Stewart, argued that his client was only engaged in legitimate business, bringing in funds that he could use to help pay the attorneys’ fees of friends and colleagues, as well as his own.
But prosecutors say Hamzy’s ostensible charitable act of legal fees was nothing more than a cover for serious criminal activity — the “pay the barrister” instruction was code for delivering drugs to dealers.
The crown case has relied heavily on the testimony of two former Brothers 4 Life members who can only be identified as Witness I and Witness A – Crown prosecutor Adrian Robertson said in opening remarks that their Evidence will be corroborated through intercepted phone calls and text messages and other police surveillance. Robertson told the jury that both witnesses would receive a reduced sentence for their cooperation as long as their testimony was true.
The courtroom has been closed to the public, except for a small number of accredited journalists, for witnesses to testify.
From Tuesday to Friday, Witness I testified remotely, his face beamed into the room on two large television screens: one above the dock for the jury to view; the other on the opposite side, for the defendant’s benefit.
Witness I told the court that he was invited to join Brothers 4 Life through Hamzy’s personal phone, which Hamzy initially contacted through his cell phone using a prohibited cell phone.
Hamzy is making plans around “a chapter he wants to start in Wollongong” – meaning a local chapter of the Brothers 4 Life gang. Witness me saying he initially “politely declined” to join, but on a subsequent phone call, Hamzy courted him, telling him “we have accountants, we have lawyers, we have many different types of people in Brothers 4 Life, and we also Do what’s legal.”
His interest was piqued by conversations about architecture, “I’m more interested in that”, plans to import “fruit he says grows most of the year” from South America, and ventures into importing Nike or Adidas sneakers from Thailand – “I don’t know if they’re real or fake”.
Eventually, Witness I said, “I joined Brothers 4 Life”. But despite his interest in legitimate business, he soon dabbled in drug supply.
Witness I told the court that he had received instructions from Hamzi by wiretapping his phone calls with Churchill and that Hamzi’s mobile phone was taken.
Lawyers would call him on business and say, “Bass is going to call me from jail… Please be quiet and I’ll let him know your response.”
In several of these calls broadcast in court, I heard witnesses tell Churchill: “I saw the barrister the other day and I gave the barrister another 7000”.When Hamzy joined the call via the prison phone, he said he was “a bit confused” about the amount paid to whom, but “I know exactly how much [Witness I] Paying barristers…that’s my livelihood”.
“I hope absolutely no one talks about my legal bills … what other people say about my appeal is nobody’s business,” Hamzy said.
Witnesses I told the court such conversations referred to drug dealing, not actual legal costs. The “big lawyers” mentioned here are drug dealers, and “paying” them is providing drugs. Numbers can refer to actual money or to ounces of drugs.
Throughout the witness’s testimony, Hamz maintained a businesslike poise, often removing from a pile of colorful Post-it notes on the bench in front of him and handing them to his lawyers.
During an occasionally heated cross-examination, Stewart repeatedly said to Witness I, “You just made it up.”
The witness acknowledged inconsistencies in his description of the codes used — sometimes $3,500 meant one ounce of the drug, while $4,000 might mean four ounces — but insisted “that’s it.”
He also agreed that in his initial call with Hamzy, “drugs were not discussed” or what code words they would use. Without such a conversation, “there is no basis for you to believe that Bassam Hamzi, through his lawyers, used the code,” Stewart said.
“I disagree,” the witness replied. “It’s a password.”
The trial, expected to take four weeks, continues before Judge Antony Townsden.
The Morning Newsletter is our guide to the most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights of the day. Sign up here.