The late Mark 'Chopper' Read. Photo: Photo: Jon Reid
What does Tony Mokbel's drug empire, Geoffrey Edelsten's failed business aspirations, the Iraq oil-for-food scandal and a Point Cook housing estate all have in common?
Each of the companies involved in these ventures, legal and illegal, was created by the same person: a one-time suburban accountant, who, on paper at least, appears to be one of Melbourne's most active and well-connected businessmen.
Tom Kotsimbos deals in so-called shelf companies, registering corporations, trusts and superannuation funds on behalf of clients who don't have the time or inclination to deal directly with the slow-paced bureaucracy of the corporate regulator.
Fight sponsor and former Carlton Crew boss Mick Gatto. Photo: Paul Jeffers
At first these entities exist only on paper, sitting on a metaphorical shelf until they are on-sold and the new owners use them to operate anything from a mom-and-dad milk bar to a multi-billion-dollar investment vehicle.
Thousands of companies have been created this way by Mr Kotsimbos' firm Abbot Incorporation Services, making its unassuming office atop a Richmond discount factory outlet one of the busiest corporate headquarters in Victoria. Dozens of other incorporation and shelf-company services also operate in Australia.
But it's the enterprises registered by Mr Kotsimbos that have ended up in the hands of a host of well-known gangland identities, bikies and other underworld figures that's attracted the attention of law enforcement. And the list is lengthy.
Fedele D'Amico at Oaks Day in 2012. Photo: Pat Scala
Drug kingpin Tony Mokbel used Mr Kotsimbos' services to create an entity that controlled many of the family's ill-gotten assets, including the Brunswick home that was seized by authorities after he skipped bail and fled to Greece in 2006.
A multi-million-dollar, inner-city property portfolio owned by accused money launderers Tom Karas and Irene Meletsis – who owe the tax office more than $49 million over their alleged involvement in the Mokbel family drug business, The Company – has been safely sheltered, so far, by a company Mr Kotsimbos registered.
Hells Angels East County leaders Stephen "Stiffy" Rogers and Peter "Skitzo" Hewat, as well as a number of their bikie associates, have controlled several companies set up by Mr Kotsimbos, including towing and trucking firms and a tattoo parlour. Law enforcement authorities have been running a wide-ranging investigation into bikie infiltration in these sectors.
Tony Mokbel Photo: Andrew De La Rue
Several companies part-owned by Mick Gatto were also born in Abbot's Richmond office, although the former Carlton Crew boss said the incorporation process was handled by his business partner.
Another client as far back as the mid-1990s was racing identity Fedele "Freddy the Bear" D'Amico, who has been charged with serious drug offences and was once the target of an assassination plot. Even the late standover man-turned-celebrity Mark "Chopper" Read once used Mr Kotsimbos' firm when he was planning to invest in a brewery.
Other lesser-known operators have included a bikie-associated plastering firm that exploits illegal foreign workers, and a former bankrupt who tricked a government official into spruiking his fanciful inventions.
Hells Angels member Peter Hewat. Photo: Supplied
Each of these companies identifies Mr Kotsimbos as their founding director, secretary and shareholder, as well as lists his office as their original place of business or registered address. He will hold these positions for only one day or up to several weeks.
The Sunday Age does not suggest that Mr Kotsimbos or Abbot Incorporation Services has done anything illegal.
Victoria Police's intelligence division did take note when his name came up during a drug smuggling investigation about five years ago.
Hells Angels member Stephen Rogers. Photo: AAP
Documents filed with ASIC showed a company run by some of their targets had been registered by Mr Kotsimbos before being transferred to them several weeks later. Many of the company's directors were known to police for their lengthy criminal histories or connections to the docks, unions, bikies and narcotics trade.
Investigators flagged concerns that Mr Kotsimbos appeared to be an accountant who set up companies for criminal entities. It is not known whether Mr Kotsimbos was questioned by authorities, but he was never charged with a crime and his business continues to operate.
An underworld figure who has owned several companies registered by Abbot said they had no idea who Mr Kotsimbos was. "I've never heard of the guy or the company. My accountant probably bought my company from his service."
225 Bridge Rd, Richmond, where multiple businesses are registered. Photo: Ken Irwin
ASIC filings support this position. One accountancy firm favoured by some of Melbourne's most prominent underworld figures also got its start as a Kotsimbos shelf company.
Other incorporation services stress there is nothing inappropriate about what they do, which is to provide a speedier and more convenient registration service than directly offered by ASIC. But national and international law enforcement authorities are concerned about the way shelf companies can be used to help conceal the identities of their ultimate owners or facilitate tax avoidance.
The police investigation also wasn't the first time that a paper trail would cause someone to take note of Tom Kotsimbos.
In 2006, the Kotsimbos-registered company Tigris Petroleum Corporation, whose parent company was based in the tax haven of Gibraltar, was identified as a key player in the shady dealings of the Iraq oil-for-food scandal.
Mr Kotsimbos did not respond to several requests for comment. Very little is known about the 52-year-old, who has never spoken publicly despite his name and business activities drawing media attention in the past. Abbot Incorporation Services has operated as a family business since 1988.
Mr Kotsimbos has been so prolific that the Australian Securities and Investment Commission isn't clear on how many shelf companies can be attributed to him. A search of companies created by Mr Kotsimbos beginning with a number, symbol or the letter "A" produced a 2000-page report alone. The corporate regulator is yet to provide the full list to The Sunday Age.