Was Sydney law clerk Brian Alexander murdered by Neddy Smith to cover up his role in the Nugan Hand scandal?
In 1981, a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drug Trafficking was established by the governments of several Australian states. Chaired by New South Wales judge Donald Stewart, the Commission was set up following the dramatic downfall of the Nugan Hand bank a year earlier. Allegedly, the Australian firm had been a major part of the Central Intelligence Agency’s operations in the Asia-Pacific region, with their services including laundering money on behalf of various criminal syndicates protected by the Americans. Most notably, journalist Jonathan Kwitny collated much of the evidence in his 1988 book, The Crimes of Patriots.
Shortly before the bank’s collapse, the body of co-founder Frank Nugan had been found in his car with a bullet wound to the head, and the business card of former CIA Director William Colby in his pocket. Ruled a suicide, his death saw his controversial company liquidated. During the inquiry, a Sydney solicitor named Brian Alexander emerged as a key figure in the relationship that the Nugan Hand had with organised crime groups, particularly the Mr Asia heroin syndicate. At the time, Alexander was employed by Sydney lawyer Robert L. Aston, whose diary was later found to contain the number of Frank’s brother, Ken, along with several police officers. After the death of the bank’s co-founder, it also emerged that both Alexander and Ken Nugan had been present at Frank’s house on the night of his death, presumably to destroy evidence of criminal activities:
Ken’s lawyer also was at the house the night of Frank’s death — not unusual in itself, but what interested Sergeant McDonnell was the identity of the lawyer Ken had chosen. To assist him at this trying time, Ken Nugan had brought to his brother’s house a solicitor named Brian Alexander. McDonnell knew that Alexander was under summons from a Commonwealth police inquiry — similar to a grand jury subpoena in the United States. He also knew that Australian customs officials wanted to talk to Alexander.
Already, Alexander had been accused of facilitating the deaths of former Mr Asia couriers who had attempted to become police informants. During the Stewart Royal Commission, his alleged role in passing police records about the Wilsons to syndicate leader Terrance “Terry” Clark would become public:
The commission has heard that both Mr Alexander and Mr Aston, his employer at the time, went to Melbourne in 1980 to give evidence at the inquest into the deaths of of Douglas and Isobel Wilson, heroin addicts and former Mr Asia syndicate couriers. Their bodies were found in a sandy grave at Rye, in Victoria, in May, 1979. The coroner later found that they had been shot on Clark’s orders after he found they gave details of syndicate activities to Queensland police in June 1978.
By that point however, Alexander had gone missing. To date, his whereabouts remain unknown. Whatever happened to him, his disappearance took out a key target of the Stewart Royal Commission, which was forced to continue without a potential star witness.
Born in 1939, Brian William Alexander worked for prominent Sydney lawyer Phil Roach at the start of his legal career. Allegedly, Roach acted as an intermediary between organised crime and the New South Wales police force, including Fred Krahe, a former officer who had gone on to a career with Nugan Hand. As for Alexander, two years after the bank had been first established in 1973, he would leave to work for John Lawrence Aston.
According to former Mr Asia enforcer Jim Shepard, Aston was a fairly unremarkable figure compared to Roach, maintaining his offices in a luxurious building owned by prominent business owner Kerry Packer. In the 1980s, another Royal Commission, headed by Frank Costigan, would identify Packer as a major figure in organised crime and tax avoidance schemes. As for his tenant John Aston, his firm would make a name for itself representing alleged drug dealers after the recruitment of Alexander, with the new solicitor the go-to for organised crime:
With the advent of Brian Alexander joining his practice, however, there was an influx of drug-related cases and an even greater influx of petty criminals wanting to be represented by the firm…That is what it was like with Brian Alexander. If you were a well-known criminal in the 1970s and needed to make your legal problems go away, then Brian Alexander was your man.
As Shepherd describes it, the Mr Asia syndicate itself began after he introduced Clark to Robert “Aussie Bob” Trimbole. An alleged ‘Ndrangheta figure based in same Griffith area of New South Wales that was home to the Nugan family, Trimbole connected Clark to Aston, securing police protection for their heroin syndicate. Abroad, a key contact for supply was Choo Cheng Kui, based in Singapore. Also known as “Chinese Jack” by his associates, Choo’s name would also emerge during the inquiries into the Nugan Hand bank:
Telexes have been found from Frank Nugan in Sydney to Mike Hand in Singapore, directing Hand to pay out the $285,000 to Choo when he showed up with the passport that Aston had described. As in most Nugan Hand telexes, the message was conveyed in the code Mike Hand had devised. But with the help of employe [sic] manuals, the code has been broken. The telex identified the payer of the money as “our friendly solicitor John,” which authorities have taken as a reference to John Aston.
Towards the end of the 1970s, as the Nugan Hand was coming under increasing scrutiny, the Mr Asia syndicate would come to a violent end. For a time, thanks to the alleged role of Alexander in procuring police documents for Clark, potential informants were swiftly eliminated. By 1979 however, Clark was on trial for ordering the death of business partner Martin Johnstone, who had set up an array of shell entities, likely with the help of the Nugan Hand bank. Clark was sentenced to prison in the United Kingdown, dying soon after of an apparent heart attack. As for Trimbole, he had also fled the country, working for a brief period as an arms trader in Europe before dying in a Spanish hospital.
It was later alleged that Alexander’s murder had been overseen by a group of corrupt police officers, led by the Roger Rogerson, who would later become notorious for relationship with drug distributor Arthur “Neddy” Smith. During much of the 1980s, Rogerson allegedly protected Smith’s operations in return for lucrative bribes, until the Sydney kingpin drew too much attention from the public and was sentenced to life in prison for stabbing a man to death in an apparent road rage incident.
In his autobiography, Neddy: The Life and Crimes of Arthur Stanley Smith (1993), Smith claimed to have taken part in the murder of Alexander on Rogerson’s orders, dumping the lawyer at sea along with members of NSW police. The allegation was one of many made by Smith after he was sent down, with the former crime boss seemingly angered by being sacrificed to protect Rogerson and his fellow officers. However, the contradictory nature of his evidence, combined with his advancing Parkinson’s and the apparent determination of the media to move on, meant that Smith soon faded into obscurity before dying in September 2001.
For more on organised crime in Australia:
The Green Bans: Was Juanita Nielsen murdered on the orders of Abe Saffron?, https://plainsightprod.medium.com/the-green-bans-was-juanita-nielsen-murdered-on-the-orders-of-abe-saffron-2bac77289c51
Killing the Fatboy: : Behind the scenes of the Melbourne gangland war, https://plainsightprod.medium.com/killing-the-fatboy-8984077f6ec