Australian army officer recently convicted for stealing rocket-launchers from a high-security military repository is also implicated by a former Bandidos bikie gang insider in at least one other criminal transaction where rocket-launchers were sold to bikies.His evidence suggests that many more of the armour-penetrating rocket-launchers may be in circulation in the criminal underworld than the nine officially acknowledged. Former Australian Crime Commission informant Stevan Utah, in hiding overseas, says he witnessed a separate weapons sale by then army captain Shane Della-Vedova from the one for which Della-Vedova was convicted earlier this year.
Della-Vedova is serving a 10-year prison sentence, but at his sentencing in May, his theft of 10 66mm M72 rocket-launchers was painted by his counsel as a "single very stupid mistake which has left his career in tatters". References were provided on his behalf by former army colleagues and much was made of his previously distinguished service record. Della-Vedova's job as an ammunition technician meant he was entrusted to dispose of huge amounts of military weaponry, including rocket-launchers, explosives and hand-grenades, often without any supervision. The court heard that he told police his theft of the rocket-launchers was accidental, that he "just panicked" when he realised he had mistakenly taken them off the base.
But Utah, a former informant with the Australian Crime Commission who helped state and federal police agencies investigate the Bandidos and other motorcycle gangs, said he witnessed Della-Vedova sell five more rocket-launchers to a senior member of the Bandidos in February 2005 -- nearly three years after the offences for which Della-Vedova was convicted. Utah trained as an army ammunition technician within a year of Della-Vedova in the late 1980s. They became friends. Utah said it was obvious at the time that there were huge holes in the military's security, and that until Della-Vedova's arrest in April last year, not much had changed. Utah, a convicted criminal, came forward to police with this information during the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting in Sydney last year when he became aware that some of the weapons on which Della-Vedova was facing charges had been sold to alleged terrorists. One of the weapons was recovered, but the court heard that even after extensive raids and searches across western Sydney, nine of the weapons had still not been found. Court records show that Della-Vedova was entrusted with the disposal of as many as 323 rocket-launchers without any witnesses to their demolition. Utah's evidence suggests that at least five more of those weapons may have been sold to criminals. But a year after his approach to police during APEC, Utah has never been formally interviewed by any police agency.
Nothing that Utah alleged implicates Dean Stephen Taylor, Della-Vedova's co-accused, who was acquitted in late July of charges of possessing and receiving the stolen rocket-launchers and other weapons. When Mr Taylor walked free from the NSW District Court just over a month ago, he said he had "nothing to say at all" about a witness code-named Harrington, a former bikie and convicted drug supplier who testified that Mr Taylor had offered to supply him with the stolen military weapons.
Harrington had an undertaking from the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions that he would not be prosecuted under any federal laws in return for his evidence. But he has no such undertaking from NSW and the CDPP said that any prosecution of Harrington was a matter for NSW.