Mark Buddle leaves Newcastle Local Court. Photo: Dan ProudmanJust five days after finishing his latest stint on parole, former Comanchero bikie chief Mark Buddle walked up the steps of a privately chartered plane at Essendon Airport, en route for a South Pacific getaway with long-time love, Mel Ter Wisscha.
But just before the twin engines began to kick over, Buddle asked the general manager of the aircraft’s operator what should he do about the cash he had stored in his luggage.
The once-national president of the Comanchero bikie gang was told to declare it to Customs.
Whether Buddle ever revealed how much the “significant amount” was is unclear. But stuffed between the swimmers, towels and bags sat $60,120 in cash.
The flight stopped at Newcastle Airport at 9.20am on July 28 en route to New Caledonia, and Australian Border Force officials were only told about the wads of cash when authorities indicated they would be inspecting their belongings.
Buddle and Ter Wisscha pleaded guilty in Newcastle Local Court on Wednesday on the Commonwealth charge of attempting to move $10,000 or more out of Australia without a report.
In doing so, prosecutors dropped a charge against Buddle of dealing in the proceeds of crime.
His barrister Avni Djemal, told magistrate Robert Stone that it was an oversight and the breach was only for a “small period of time”. It’s understood Buddle’s girlfriend had filled out the cards as he cannot read or write.
Mr Djemal said the money had been a gift – he had previously told the court that Buddle was rewarded for successfully completing rehabilitation for drug and alcohol problems – and there was no evidence offered that it was to be used illegally or “nefariously”.
It is understood Buddle told authorities the money was gifted to him by brothel owner Eddie Hayson and another high-ranking Comanchero, Ali Bazzi.
Mr Hayson did not answer questions about the gift when asked by Fairfax Media on Wednesday.
Mr Djemal argued in court that if Buddle had been attempting to move the money out of Australia by stealth, he would not have had the conversation at Essendon airport.
“If you are of the inclination of trying to get money out of the country surreptitiously, you would never open up the bag to [the plane company manager] and say ‘I have cash, what do I do with it?’,” Mr Djemal said.
He later added: “The money is not from illegal means and there is no evidence it was going to any illegal venture at all.”
Magistrate Robert Stone didn’t send Buddle back to jail, but he questioned why so much money was needed for a holiday.
“No satisfactory explanation has been provided as to why that amount of money had to be taken out of the country in the way that it was,” Mr Stone said.
Mr Stone ordered that the now-married couple have their passports returned, although the cash remains in the hands of authorities because of an “ongoing investigation”.
He sentenced Buddle to two months’ jail, although the couple left court on good behaviour bonds and $2000 each in fines after the eight weeks Buddle had spent behind bars on remand were taken into account.
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