Bikie brothel brothers lose fire claim
By John Reynolds, KT Journalism
Two Canberra brothel-owner brothers have had their claim for fire damages rejected by a judge because they deliberately hid their outlaw motorcycle gang membership from their insurer.
NSW Supreme Court Justice Monika Schmidt said it was impossible to believe two senior members of a gang could have thought their bikie links were not relevant to their insurer, Calliden Insurance Ltd.
She also rejected their argument the brothel parent company, Stealth Enterprises, was either unaware of Baris and Fidel Tukel’s ties with the Comancheros bikie gang or, if it was, the sole director felt he was not obliged to reveal it to the insurer.
“Baris Tukel’s position was not only as Stealth Enterprises’ sole director and guiding mind, but also the Comancheros’ Sergeant at Arms, [while] Fidel Tukel’s position [was] manager of the brothel,” she said.
“Under those circumstances, there can be no question their membership of the Comancheros was known to Stealth Enterprises.”
Stealth sued Calliden after the insurer denied liability when the brothel was gutted by fire on January 1, 2012.
Calliden denied the $500,000 claim when it discovered Stealth director Baris Tukel and Gentleman’s Club brothel manager Fidel Tukel had not disclosed their senior membership of the bike gang when they bought the policy in September 2010 or renewed it a year later.
It was also revealed the brothel’s ACT registration to operate had expired shortly before the renewal.
The brothers had earlier tried to have evidence of their bikie membership barred from the trial by arguing it was irrelevant and inflammatory but, when that failed, they argued their bikie membership was part of their private lives and not linked to the brothel’s operation. Alternatively, Stealth Enterprises was not required to reveal private information about its staff.
Calliden argued a reasonable person or business would have known of the link between bikie gangs and crime and informed the insurer, and it would not have provided or renewed cover if it had been aware of the club membership or the registration lapse.
On September 3, 2015, Justice Schmidt rejected Stealth’s argument it did not have to disclose managers’ private activities to the insurer, or that a reasonable person would be unaware the bikie connection was relevant to Calliden.
She said a NSW police intelligence analyst told the court outlaw motorcycle gangs’ involvement with serious crimes was well known.
The Comancheros was a significant outlaw motorcycle gang, with a history in Australia dating to its establishment in 1966 in western Sydney. The analyst believed it now had nine NSW chapters with 200 members and another six chapters and 200 members based elsewhere in Australia.
The officer said it was also known that the Comancheros gang was “at war” with another gang and threats had been made to firebomb premises associated with rival gang members.
Justice Schmidt said: “The criminal activity of bikie gangs, like criminal activities generally, is a matter of considerable ongoing interest and concern to members of the community, and of much greater notoriety and interest to the community than [crimes like] tax avoidance in the building industry.
“In this case, Baris Tukel had received threats from another bikie gang that the brothel was going to be firebombed.
“That is a matter Stealth Enterprises would undoubtedly be bound to disclose in its application because, unquestionably, it would know that such a threat would have an impact on Calliden’s decision as to whether to accept the risk of insuring its brothel.”
Justice Schmidt said a reasonable person would know of the link and be aware of the need to tell an insurer. Stealth would also have known that. She accepted Calliden’s argument it would not have issued or renewed the policy had it known of the bikie connection or the registration lapse.
“By 2010 it was commonly known about the ongoing dispute with another bikie gang involving the firebombing of a business, drive-by shootings and the bombing of a building,” she said.
“The conclusion the association with the Comancheros was relevant to Calliden’s decision is unavoidable.”
On November 12, Justice Schmidt ordered yet-to-be agreed costs and interest be paid to Calliden on an ordinary basis to October 28, 2014, and an indemnity basis from that date to the October 29, 2015, costs hearing. The change reflected Stealth Enterprises’ rejection of Calliden’s compromise offer in October last year, she said.
(Stealth Enterprises Pty Ltd t/as The Gentleman’s Club v Calliden Insurance Ltd , NSWSC 1270, 03/09/15; Stealth Enterprises Pty Ltd t/as The Gentleman’s Club v Calliden Insurance Ltd (No 2) , NSWSC 1691, 12/11/15)