Detectives stumble upon banking fraud while investigating arson

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A Canberra man has been jailed for four years over the torching of a Weston cafe and his role in an international banking scam worth more than half-a-million dollars based out of Greece.

The two crimes were unconnected, but the investigation of one led to the other when ACT Policing detectives – having linked Eliadis to the Weston area using the lights of a car captured on surveillance video – tapped the man’s phone and bugged his car while hunting for the people who set Brierly’s Cafe alight after midnight on March 13, 2014.

For months police listened in, searching for clues as to the man’s involvement in the arson. Meanwhile, an international banking scam in which Eliadis played a “critical” role was unfolding in the conversations.

Leo Nicholas Eliadis, 47, appeared in the ACT Supreme Court on Tuesday to be sentenced for the both the arson and the banking fraud.

Fire crews and police investigate the fire at the Brierly Street cafe in Weston in March 2014. Fire crews and police investigate the fire at the Brierly Street cafe in Weston in March 2014. Photo: Jay Cronan

In the arson, the jury found Eliadis helped organise and pay another man, Nick Parlov, 24, to douse the cafe in petrol and set it alight in an attack that was captured in dramatic surveillance video.

Parlov was sentenced on Monday to three years jail for his role.

He’ll be eligible for parole in October.

It was in the course of a months-long and dogged police investigation into the arson in which police listened to thousands of intercepted conversations, many in Greek, that they happened upon the scam.

A cousin in Greece asked Eliadis to host foreign nationals in Australia and help them set up local bank accounts, including by providing a local address.

The cousin then sent over money cards loaded with cash. Eliadis would withdraw the cash and make deposits in the new Australian bank accounts. He moved about $84,000 in this way.

When the Visa cards connected with the Australian accounts were delivered, Eliadis forwarded them onto Greece.

He also called the banks, pretending to be the foreign national account holders, and either unblocked the cards for overseas use or told the operator he was travelling overseas.

A weakness in the banking system meant more than half a million dollars was withdrawn from the accounts in Greece, using the Visa cards Eliadis had sent over.

The money has not been recovered.

Eliadis pleaded guilty to 13 offences over 2014 in connection with the scam, including participating in a criminal group, dealing with instruments of crime and 11 counts of dealing with identification documents to commit an indictable offence.

On Tuesday, Chief Justice Helen Murrell sentenced Eliadis to four years in prison for the combined offences, with a two year non-parole period.

In the arson, the judge found Eliadis was more culpable than his younger accomplice, but not significantly so. The court was left without a motive for Eliadis in committing the arson. The court heard he was the godson of a nearby cafe owner, but the judge found no motive was “clearly established”.

In the banking scam, Chief Justice Murrell noted Eliadis’ role was “critical to the success of the scheme”. But she took his guilty pleas, as well as his own words to the court that he wanted to “own up to my mistake”, as indicative not only of the strength of the Crown case but also of his remorse.

Eliadis had said he was “promised the world” in the scam but had only received a few thousand dollars for his role. The judge noted there was no evidence of how much money he had received.

Eliadis will be eligible for release in July 2019.