Prominent Canberra lawyer to face money laundering charges

Prominent Canberra criminal lawyer Ben Aulich, who has represented a range of high-profile people from the prime minister’s chief of staff to drug importers, has been arrested on a charge of recruiting a person to carry out a criminal activity and is expected to be charged on Thursday with conspiracy to commit money laundering offences.

Mr Aulich, 47, along with his colleague Bridie Harders, 35, and a Canberra accountant Michael Papandrea, 54, were arrested following an eight-month-long investigation targeting “professional facilitators” for organised crime in Canberra

ACT police have alleged that Mr Aulich facilitated an introduction to Mr Papandrea for the purposes of arranging to legitimise large quantities of cash.

Ben Aulich founded Canberra law firm Aulich.

Police allege the men met on a number of occasions to discuss how legal contracts and agreements could be used to support a business purchase to facilitate the laundering of proceeds of crime.

In February this year, Mr Aulich’s client, Rohan Arnold, was sentenced to almost 20 years in jail for the role he played in a conspiracy to import cocaine, with a potential street value of $1.5 billion.

Ben Aulich’s client Rohan Arnold is serving a lengthy jail term for conspiring to import cocaine.

In 2018 Mr Aulich was questioned by the liquidators of Hartford Investments, a company run by Peter Larcombe, the alleged mastermind of the $130 million Plutus tax fraud scheme which involved labour hire and payroll firms diverting millions of dollars owed in taxes into other companies.

Aulich legal partner Bridie Harders.

Mr Larcombe, who lept to his death from a car park in Los Angles in 2016, secretly controlled Hartford, which was the subject of lengthy Federal Court examinations in which liquidators were investigating the funnelling of money into Sydney property developments and more than $11 million in "uncommercial" transactions.

Ben Aulich (left) arriving at court with Peta Credlin. Credit:AAP

A day's outing from Long Bay Jail in 2018 failed to refresh the memory of drug kingpin Arnold, who had difficulty explaining why a company he had set up in Hong Kong had divested itself of close to $5 million in shares in early 2017 in regard to the Surry Hills property into which Hartford had invested.

Arnold was also asked why he received $1.7 million in 2016 from Hartford, a company for which he did no work.

Mr Aulich, who drew up the transfer deed for Arnold, was also questioned about the unusual movement of $5 million in and then out of his client’s Hong Kong company. “So it didn’t cause you concerns that [Mr Rohan’s company] was divesting itself of…an asset worth about $5 million and was receiving nothing for it?” asked barrister Hugh Somerville.

“I didn’t see it that way,” replied Mr Aulich. “I was sitting with Rohan Arnold. He was comfortable that the payment was made. I didn’t check where it went. And if he was comfortable that he received the payment, I was comfortable that the transaction was done.”

“As long as your client said “that’s all good”, you were happy to go along with it?” asked Mr Somerville. Mr Aulich replied that he was “comfortable” with the transfer of the $5 million and “That ended it for me.”

Another of Mr Aulich’s prominent clients was Peta Credlin, the chief of staff to then Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Mr Aulich persuaded the ACT Magistrates Court in 2013 to dismiss a low-range drink-driving charge Ms Credlin was facing on the grounds of her otherwise good driving record and that she has already been punished sufficiently in terms of media exposure.

In a statement on Aulich's website, the firm’s managing partner Peter Woodhouse said he expected Mr Aulich and Ms Harders to enter pleas of not guilty to the various offences, including money laundering, when they appear in the ACT Magistrates Court on Thursday.

He said that, just like any other people charged with a criminal offence, they should “enjoy the benefit of the presumption of innocence.”

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