Stevan Utah, who infiltrated bikie gang, believed to be the first Australian given refugee status by a foreign country
A former police informant who infiltrated an outlaw motorcycle gang has become the first Australian known to have been granted refugee status by a foreign country after a tribunal in Canada found authorities here blew his cover.
On Monday the ABC revealed that Stevan Utah won a landmark asylum claim in Canada last year after he faced attempts on his life by the Bandidos bikie gang.
Utah’s Australian lawyer, Chris Hannay, confirmed to the Guardian that Utah was granted asylum in Canada by the country’s immigration and refugee board after a judge accepted evidence that the former police informant had murder contracts placed on his life.
“There was a hearing last year and they found he was at risk to come back to Australia because of inadequate protection [by] the Australian authorities in relation to his matters,” Hannay said. “They confirmed he was eligible to be a sanctioned person in Canada.”
In its ruling the Canadian immigration board condemned Australian authorities for failing to provide Utah protection after his cover was blown.
It found Australia’s top crime agency “outed the claimant as an informant” with a 2006 media release “divulging that they had a source” in the Bandidos.
The refugee board found Australian authorities failed to offer Utah adequate protection amid a “broader pattern due to corruption, ineptitude and structural difficulties”, the ABC reported.
A former soldier, Utah fled Australia after his cover was blown and Bandidos members tried to kill him on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. His story was documented in the book Dead Man Running by former detective Duncan McNab. Utah described witnessing vicious beatings, executions and the sale of stolen military weapons.
In a 2013 interview with the Courier Mail he explained why people joined outlaw motorcycle gangs and the culture within them.
“Some [join] because they have a family member or a childhood friend in a club, some because they are lost in life and seek a family environment, some because they love Harley-Davidson motorcycles and some to mask their criminal activities,” he said.
“Very few join to be a criminal, that is a simple byproduct of obtaining membership.”
The Canadian immigration board ruled Utah had presented “clear and convincing evidence” of the failure by Australian authorities to provide him with adequate protection from the Bandidos.
In the ruling, obtained by the ABC, the immigration board member Jodie Schmalzbauer wrote Utah “would more likely than not face a serious risk to his life, almost immediately on his return to Australia”.
In an interview with the ABC Utah said he was “pleased for Australia” that new anti-gang entities had been formed “but the fact is, I am now not Australian”.
“Protection is questionable at best and it was found there is not and was not any ‘internal flight avenue’ available to me,” he said.
The State’s more lenient laws could see senior members of one of the most violent organised motorcycle crime gangs considering relocating to Tasmania says Assistant Commissioner Glenn Frame.
Assistant Commissioner Frame would not name the outlaw bikie gang, which he said intelligence indicated was believed to be looking to shift into the North West.
His comments, and those of Police Minister Michael Ferguson who said he is aware of police intelligence which suggests a major bikie gang plans to shift operations to the Coast, come as tougher laws to deal with outlaw bikie gangs are being debated in parliament.
Legislation to ban outlaw motorcycle gang members from displaying colours in public and making it illegal for gang members to associate with each other or known criminals is before Tasmania’s Lower House this week.
Meantime, respected former Western District police chief, Locky Avery, said laws should be introduced, to avoid Tasmania being a safe haven for outlaw bikie clubs.
He said you don’t have to dig far inside the outlaw bikie clubs to find an association with illegal drugs and other activities of concern.
“The problem is they don’t get along with each other, and when newer ones are introduced they compete for turf and it ends up with violence and problems,” Mr Avery said.
“If you don’t have the laws to deal with it, and you don’t reflect the laws of other places, you will become a soft target.”
He said most other states had introduced the same regulations proposed in Tasmania.
“They don’t do it for no reason at all,” Mr Avery said. “If you look at what’s happening in the other states it’s not good, and Tasmania does not need that sort of activity here. We have to align ourselves with the same sort of legislation to make sure (Tasmania) is not an attractive state to come to.”
Asked if the NW has become a stronghold for outlaw bikie clubs, Deputy Commissioner Frame said there were five outlaw motorcycle gang chapters in the Devonport area. He said those include the Bandidos and Outlaws with chapters at East Devonport and the Black Uhlans, Devils Henchman and Rebels have chapters in Devonport. He said the Outlaws have a chapter in Burnie.
Acting Devonport Mayor Annette Rockliff said the council previously raised its concerns with police about the establishment of bikie gangs in the NW.
“Whether bikie club colours should be banned is a matter for the Parliament to consider, taking into account advice received from Tasmania Police,” she said.
Meantime, concerns have been raised in submissions to the government about the laws contravening civil liberties.
The Labor Party said last week the legislation did not deal with organised crime.
It is calling for a broader approach to all types of organised crime.