Earlier we met Redfern-based Frank Hakim, the first major Lebanese criminal in Sydney, and younger men such as Louis Bayeh and Danny Karam. They were followed by other groups of criminals of Lebanese descent, many of whom, in contrast to their predecessors, preferred to remain in the part of Sydney where they’d grown up – the south-west, around Lakemba. Often several (although not all) members of a family were involved in crime. By the end of the 1990s they had made it an area notorious for drug-dealing, knee-capping and drive-by shootings.
One of the most innovative was Shadi Derbas, who turned Telopea Street Punchbowl into an efficiently run drive-through drug market unfamiliar in Australia but similar to the “corners” of Baltimore seen in the television series The Wire. The gang operated look-outs and kept drugs and guns hidden at locations around the street, including in residents’ yards.
In 1998 a 14-year-old schoolboy named Edward Lee went to Telopea Street to attend a party and blundered into the front yard of the house next door by mistake. He was stabbed to death by 14-year-old Moustapha Dib. As Lee’s friends drove off to take him to hospital, shots were fired at their car. Dib later stated the fight had started because “one of the Asians made eye contact”. A member of the Telopea Street gang gave police information on the killing, and Dib shot him and his wife. The gang member survived (unlike his wife) and fled the country; Dib was convicted of the manslaughter of Edward Lee.
It took police two years to close down the Telopea Street drug drive-through. When they did, over 60 people were charged with serious offences and $3 million of assets obtained from the proceeds of crime was seized. In August 2000, Shadi Derbas was convicted of hindering the discovery of evidence regarding two murders and jailed.
At the same time, two families emerged from car theft and rebirthing to become major drug dealers in the south-west. These were the Darwiches and the Razzaks, and conflict between them was later to explode into a bloody war that killed many and lasted several years. The leaders were Adnan Darwiche and Gehad Razzak.
The big Darwiche gang was well armed; some members would take out their pistols and place them on the barber’s counter at Lakemba while having their hair cut – it was a bit like the Wild West. In 1997 Adnan shot himself in the chest by accident, but survived. The next year, after someone insulted his brother Abdul, he initiated an encounter in which the man was shot in the leg. In 2000 he was in a car that conducted a drive-by shooting in which two people were wounded, this in response to an attack on another brother. A pattern of behaviour involving violent arguments over respect had been set and would continue for years to come. Everyone feared the Darwiches, and their drug territory grew to cover the large area from Bankstown to Miranda and out to Brighton-le-Sands.
The smaller Razzak gang was keen to operate in some of this territory and began to steal from drug dealers protected by the Darwiches, thereby initiating a war that was to last eight years. One of the Razzak crew was caught by the Darwiche gang, and in February 2001 taken to Punchbowl Park and shot in the back of both knees. Soon after, Adnan Darwiche’s house received a drive-by, so Adnan and colleagues shot up four properties in revenge. (In three of them the inhabitants had nothing to do with the Razzaks.) A few months later, Adnan and a colleague broke into the home of Gehad’s cousin Bilal Razzak and put four bullets into him. As so often in Lebanese shootings, accuracy was not good and Razzak survived. There were more gun fights between the gangs in the previously quiet streets of the south-west. In one conflict in September 2001, during which many shots were fired and no one hit, police found 11 abandoned high-powered rifles and handguns in the vicinity.
After this, Adnan got religion. He grew a beard, and started wearing robes and attending Lakemba mosque. He gave up drug dealing and in 2003 went with brother Abdul on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. The Razzaks took the opportunity to shoot former Darwiche lieutenant Khaled Taleb four times. (He survived.) Adnan cut short his pilgrimage and returned home and proceeded to take revenge. In the next six months there were 18 shootings across the south-west, some in crowded shopping centres and streets; six people died and five were wounded. In one instance, Adnan Darwiche and others killed Ali Razzak, Gehad’s uncle, in front of 30 other worshippers as he left Lakemba Mosque.
In October 2003 police set up Strike Force Gain to bring the streets back under control. Over the next year there were 1,100 arrests and 2,400 charges were laid. Two of those arrested were Adnan and Abdul. In late 2006, Adnan was sentenced to life sentences for two murders (although not of Ali Razzak, for which there was a hung jury), 18 years for an attempted murder, and eight years for shooting Bilal Razzak. His former colleague Khaled Taleb gave evidence against him in return for indemnity for several murders, and then disappeared into the witness protection program. Adnan was sent to the supermax prison inside Goulburn Gaol.
Abdul Darwiche continued with the family drug business and in 2009 was shot dead at a service station, allegedly by Razzak ally Mohammed Fahda, who blamed Abdul for his own brother’s death six years earlier. Another Darwiche brother, Michael, was arrested soon after in a car with a gun, a street map, and a list of houses occupied by people called Fahda. He was charged with intending to kill Mohammed Fahda, but found not guilty.
The death of Abdul marked the end of the Darwiche crime spree, with most of the Razzak gangsters also dead or locked up by that time. Organised gangs involving other people of Lebanese descent continue to dominate violent crime in some areas of Sydney. Some of the best-known contemporary criminals include some members of the Ibrahim family.
MAIN SOURCES: articles by various reporters in the Sydney Morning Herald; Blood Money by Clive Small and Tom Gilling