Frank Hakim

All around the world, first and second generation immigrants often form a higher proportion of criminals than of the general population. One reason is that energetic and ambitious men who have difficulty obtaining legitimate opportunities turn to illegal ones. We have already seen with Robert Trimbole an example of how the Italian mafia came to Australia. Frank Hakim, who emigrated to Australia at the age of 20 or so, was the first prominent Lebanese criminal. In the mid-1960s he obtained the protection of Lennie McPherson and proceeded to provide protection himself to Lebanese and other ethnic gaming clubs. He extended his criminal activities and eventually became known as “the Lebanese godfather”.

One of his techniques was quite unusual. He bought a delicatessen in Cleveland Street Redfern, close to the headquarters of the Gaming Squad and became a Justice of the Peace. A JP had to sign the warrant necessary for a raid on suspected illegal gaming premises. Hakim was used by the Gaming Squad to sign warrants for almost every raid it conducted from 1971 to 1979. Naturally this gave him advance notification of every raid, which could be passed on to those who paid him protection.

Hakim expanded his contacts among police and became a general intermediary between them and the underworld. He paid police to protect at least 24 gaming clubs and often entertained police officers. In 1983 the Australian Federal Police tapped over 7,000 of Hakim’s conversations: 26 corruption investigations involving police ensued.

Hakim’s relationship with Lennie McPherson was essential to his success, and as Bob Bottom revealed in 1991, he once told Sydney’s Mr Big: “You are a flag and should be obeyed and should be respected. And that flag … should be saluted any time. If they don’t salute, they are a bastard … they no good soldier at all. That’s what I think. This is my opinion, sir, believe me on my baby’s life.” But the relationship went through a rocky patch in 1985 when Hakim gave permission for certain men to put gaming machines into an ethnic club. It turned out McPherson already had a direct relationship with the club, and sent a group of men to throw the new machines into the street.

Later that year Detective Inspector Tony Lauer led a raid on Hakim’s Redfern office and found just over a gram of heroin on Hakim’s person. This was surprising because Hakim had had advance knowledge of the raid from his police sources; he later complained the drugs had been planted by Lauer. In effect he was saying the detectives had engaged in “noble corruption” – the use of illegal means by otherwise honest police to convict known criminals. The Independent Commission Against Corruption rejected the claim, and Bob Bottom pointed out at the time that the detectives accused by Hakim were in the vanguard of anti-corruption efforts.

In 1987 Hakim was gaoled for six and a half years for his involvement in bribing Corrective Services Minister Rex Jackson to release prisoners early. The Reverend Fred Nile described him in parliament as “Mr Fixit”, an acknowledgement of the power he had acquired through his vast range of contacts in the Lebanese community, the police force, and elsewhere. But on his release from prison his power was much weakened. He died in 2005, and over 400 people attended his funeral at Redfern.

Well before his death, though, he had handed on the flame to another criminal of Lebanese descent, Louis Bayeh. Hakim got him a job as debt collector with Lennie McPherson, and Bayeh went on to open a gaming club at West Ryde – with Hakim’s approval – and then became a major standover man and Kings Cross drug dealer for many years.

In July 1993 Bayeh’s Ermington home, where his children were sleeping, was the subject of a drive-by shooting. This had hardly ever happened before – there was an unwritten law among Sydney’s criminals that family was to be kept out of business disputes. It was one of the first of what was to become a common form of violence and intimidation by Lebanese gangsters.

In 1999 Bayeh was the subject of an attempted assassination outside a restaurant in Narwee. He was shot three times but survived. In 2001 he was back in gaol for supplying heroin and cocaine and taking $180,000 – which he split with police – from brothel owners for “protection”. Clive Small and Tom Gilling note in their book Blood Money: “Back in prison Bayeh sought special treatment due to the dozen or so medications he was taking for his heart, hypertension, claustrophobia, stomach problems, hernia, sleep apnoea, memory loss, and the stress he claimed to be suffering from the number of contracts said to be out on his life.”

The 1990s saw the rise of many other powerful and violent Lebanese figures, including Louis Bayeh’s brother Bill. Like most organised criminals in the modern era, they focussed on selling drugs, although standing over other drug dealers and car re-birthing were also popular. Many of those who came after Louis Bayeh did not last so long. The Police Royal Commission and the substantial reforms that followed it stopped most corruption, making police more effective against organised criminals than in the past. They were assisted in this by new laws, such as those enabling them to seize assets that were the proceeds of crime, and institutions, such as the New South Wales Crime Commission (which had been created in 1986), which unlike the police can force people to give evidence.

Successful criminals who were not arrested often died. Violence increased partly because of the nature of the drug trade, and partly because the degree of stability once provided in the underworld by the involvement of corrupt police largely disappeared. Perhaps the best known gang of the late 1990s was the extremely vicious Danny’s Boys, led by Danny Karam, who engaged in knee-cappings and drive-by shootings, including one of Lakemba Police Station in 1998. Soon after that, Karam was killed by his own gang members. Within a year the new leader, Michael Kanaan, and some 50 others associated with the gang had been arrested. Kanaan received life sentences for three murders.


MAIN SOURCE: Blood Money by Clive Small and Tom Gilling; The Prince and the Premier by David Hickie