Man with links to ATO sting arrested in Belgrade bust
A wealthy property developer entangled in the Australian Taxation Office fraud sting is accused of playing a key role in an international cocaine syndicate busted in Serbia on Tuesday.
Tristan Edward Waters, 34, Rohan Arnold, 44, and David Campbell, 48, were arrested in the five-star Metropol Palas Hotel in Belgrade on Tuesday after a nine-month investigation into what Serbian media labelled the “Waters’ cartel”.
Three Australians arrested in Serbian drug bust
The Australians are suspected of being part of an international drug-smuggling group that tried to import more than a tonne of cocaine into Australia.
Authorities pounced as the trio were allegedly in the middle of handing over a bag containing a pistol, $11,350 in Australian cash, €638,020 ($976,400) as well as large amounts of Czech crowns, Vietnamese dons, Japanese yen, Chinese yuan, Thai baht, Singapore dollars and dinars.
After intercepting a 1280-kilogram shipment of cocaine hidden in steel on a Chinese container boat in Sydney last April, Australian authorities sent a request to Serbia in November alerting them to the possible future meeting in Belgrade, Serbian state media reported.
Arnold is a prominent steel businessman who made regular trips to China and raced in the Sydney to Hobart just three weeks ago.
Waters, a former nightclub security manager and labourer from Canberra, is referred to in Serbian reports as a “big narco-boss” who relocated to Dubai in recent years and owns hotels and assets worth more than $1 billion.
He appears to run several property development and investment businesses in Australia and, on the website of his Canberra-based construction business Triswat Constructions, he said he had managed 200 construction projects in Australia including a shopping centre in the ACT suburb of Forde.
He said his mantra is: “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”
Waters was connected to several companies set up by, or involving, key members of the ATO tax fraud syndicate allegedly run by Adam Cranston, the son of the then ATO deputy commissioner Michael Cranston.
Dev Menon, the Sydney North Shore tax lawyer who allegedly provided legal advice on how to structure and conceal the fraudulent scheme, set up a company in 2016 called CREI Camperdown. He listed its directors as Waters and Daniel Hausman, an eastern suburbs businessman who, along with one its key members, Daniel Rostankovski, has been charged with blackmailing the syndicate.
Its shareholders were companies associated with Rostankovksi and Double Bay property developer Michael Teplitsky, who is not charged but is named in court documents tendered by the AFP as helping Hausman to launder the blackmail money.
On the same day Menon set up CREI Camperdown, he set up Consolidated Real Estate and Investments Ltd (CREI), and listed its directors as building project manager Simon McIntyre, who is in custody on drug, firearm and proceeds of crime charges, and Peter Larcombe, an original member of the ATO syndicate who died by suicide in 2016.
Larcombe, once a close friend and associate of Adam Cranston, had fled to Dubai shortly before his death after falling out with syndicate members.
Waters was arrested in 2008 after cocaine and MDMA were found in his car but, in 2013, an ACT Supreme Court judge noted that the police couldn’t prove the drugs were Waters’ and he was not charged. However, during the trial of his associate, the court heard that, when he was given the chance to make a call, Waters phoned his uncle, Egon Struss, who was wanted in relation to drug-trafficking, money laundering and the distribution of cocaine and ecstasy in the Newcastle area.
Waters and Arnold have been taken to the Serbian Foreign Ministry in the Belgrade suburb of Padinjak while authorities wait for extradition requests from Australia.
Serbian news magazine Politika reported that Waters is suspected to be the buyer of the cocaine and Arnold is suspected of laundering money for Waters.
Campbell was ordered to be detained at the public prosecutors’ office on suspicion of “unauthorised possession and carrying of weapons”.
A fourth man, Lebanese citizen Diab George, 40, was also arrested during the operation on suspicion of having a fake passport or falsified documents, state media reported.
Serbian authorities indicated they would comply with any extradition requests from Australia but none had been made.
with Kate McClymont and Dan Proudman