“There is clearly a statutory regime under sections 46 and 47 of the Confiscation Act that expressly provides for the setting aside of forfeiture upon the quashing of a conviction. And that’s happened.
“On the current state of the law, I would have thought he’s got a good case.
“This issue of unscrambling automatic forfeiture has, as far as I’m aware, never been raised before.”
On Monday, the Court of Appeal quashed Mokbel’s 2006 conviction for being knowingly concerned in the importation of three kilograms of cocaine smuggled from Mexico in 2001.
That charge was a key basis for Victoria Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions to freeze assets worth at least $20 million at the time of his arrest in 2001.
Among them was a country pub, former pizza shop, several houses, an apartment complex, horse farm, two shopping complexes and a development site in Brunswick, holiday flat in Noosa, Ferrari, Mercedes and several bank accounts.
A number of the assets were sold off to pay bank debts while he awaited trial, and following his conviction in absentia after he fled to Greece in 2006. The remaining were forfeited to the government by order of the County Court.
It remains unclear how much compensation the 55-year-old could qualify for, including whether he is entitled to receive an amount equivalent to the assets’ present-day value or interest on funds seized nearly two decades ago.
“The difficulty with undoing forfeiture is that other people have now acquired interests in the forfeited property and it seems that the only way of dealing with that is to pay monetary compensation rather than to return the forfeited property,” Mr Juebner said.
“I would have thought he is entitled to be compensated for the amount that he was deprived of at that point in time but at present day values.”
The Andrews government declined to comment on whether it would move to block any compensation payments by retroactively changing its asset seizure laws.
“Victoria’s confiscation scheme ensures that serious criminals do not benefit financially from their actions and that those who break the law will pay the price,” a spokeswoman said.
“The circumstances for the return of assets under the act are extremely limited and require an assessment on a case-by-case basis.”
Mokbel, who has not yet made any application to return the assets, is appealing against three other drug trafficking convictions. It has been estimated that by the time his drug empire was dismantled, law enforcement authorities had seized more than 60 properties, dozens of cars and motorcycles, and millions of dollars in cash and jewellery.
In the event he is exonerated in those cases, the government could be forced to compensate him for many of those forfeited assets.
Mokbel’s solicitor, Sarah Tricarico, did not respond to a request for comment.
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Chris Vedelago is an investigations reporter for The Age with a special interest in crime and justice.
Tammy Mills is the legal affairs reporter for The Age.