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Encrypted texts that organised Sydney underworld hit revealed for first time

ABC NEWS logo ABC NEWS 16/12/2021 By Heath Parkes-Hupton
Pasquale Babaro, 35, was shot dead outside an Earlwood home on November 14, 2016. (Supplied) © Provided by ABC News Pasquale Babaro, 35, was shot dead outside an Earlwood home on November 14, 2016. (Supplied)

Two weeks after Sydney gangster Pasquale Barbaro was found dead in 2016, police had his assassins in handcuffs.

But it wasn't the two pistols used to kill Barbaro that served as the proverbial smoking guns in the case against a crew of breakaway Rebels bikies.

It was a string of emails hidden on encrypted BlackBerry phones — messages not uncovered until three years after the hit — which helped seal the killers' fate.

"It's done. We driving pray we arrive safe," ringleader Abuzar "Abs" Sultani sent an associate minutes after the shooting, a court was told.

Now, after a series of Supreme Court trials which began in early 2020, Sultani and his lieutenants Siar Munshizada, Joshua Baines and Mirwais Danishyar face decades in prison for their roles in some of the city's most infamous murders.

Sultani, 32, pleaded guilty to three killings including those of Barbaro, Mehmet Yilmaz and Michael Davey, while his henchmen faced separate trials held under strict suppression orders, which were lifted on Thursday.

Munshizada, 33, was found guilty of all three murders at his trials.

Baines, 29, and Danishyar, 28, were tried only for the murders of Barbaro and Yilmaz.

In the Barbaro case, Baines was found guilty of murder and Danishyar guilty of being an accessory before and after the fact.

Both were acquitted of alleged roles in the September 2016 Yilmaz hit.

All four men will be sentenced before Justice Desmond Fagan on Friday, who has already described Sultani and Munshizada as "serial killers".

It took just 27 seconds for mafia figure Barbaro — known for his penchant for designer clothes and fast cars — to die after he hopped into his Mercedes Benz having left developer George Alex's Earlwood home in Sydney's inner-west.

It was about 9.30pm on November 14, 2016 and the 35-year-old had shared dinner with Mr Alex, who has never been accused of involvement in the murder.

Moments later, a stolen Audi pulled up alongside the Mercedes parked on Larkhall Avenue and a volley of bullets was unleashed.

Barbaro was already wounded when he fled his car and made to run down the street.

Sultani gave chase and shot him again.

In the Audi was getaway driver Munshizada and Baines, who a court was told had been shooting from the back seat.

The car was driven to Concord and burned before Danishyar picked up the trio in Sultani's Subaru WRX.

Police investigating underworld murders in Sydney had already bugged the WRX before the night of Barbaro's execution and tracked it back to Sultani's apartment in Sydney Olympic Park, which was also under covert surveillance.

Soon after the shooting, the court heard a man who police identified as Munshizada sent an email to an associate.

"The dog is dead lol sent back to our creator to confess his sins and scummy acts lol," he wrote to an associate at 10:46pm.

Thirty minutes later, in reply to another gang member, the court was told he wrote: "All good brother. Pasquale is officially dead [as of] about an hour ago".

During Baines's trial the court heard the gang informally known as "Sultani's crew" used BlackBerry phones to communicate, which were encrypted and could only receive messages from each other.

This meant police could not intercept messages sent under handles allocated to the members and a central administrator could wipe all data at the push of a button.

Police seized the phones of Baines, Munshizada and Danishyar upon their arrests on November 29, 2016, but could not find anything on them.

This changed when investigators travelled to Canada — where BlackBerry is based — in 2019, where, with the help of federal authorities, they were able to retrieve a series of emails sent before and after the shooting.

Crown prosecutor Alex Morris said each man in Sultani's crew was given a code name to hide their identities, with former Burwood Rebels president Sultani dubbed "unconfirm".

It was alleged at trial that Baines texted as "screamers", Munshizada as "bullet.proof" and Danishyar as "outtacontrol".

In the early hours of November 15, the court was told, Baines sent a congratulatory message to getaway driver Munshizada.

"Goodnight my brother. You're a machine driver. I'll see you in the morning bro. Love ya x."

The emails also revealed Sultani's anxiety about whether or not a CCTV camera across the road from Mr Alex's house caught a glimpse of his face when he jumped out of the car to shoot Barbaro.

He had found out about the camera from an associate who had been informed about it by police.

At 10:27pm on November 23, 2016, Sultani emailed Baines to comment on a segment on a TV news program delving into Barbaro's brutal murder.

"Just seen current affair lol I don't care. Just been thinking about hoodie. Just wonder if they got me or not. Otherwise I should be sweet. It was done clean. Even with the WRX," he said.

Sultani's WRX was seized by police the day after the shooting.

"You be sweet my brother because you keep putting your head down. Otherwise they wouldn't have got a clean shot of you," Baines replied.

Sultani texted back: "Yeah that's what I'm hoping. Only time was when I jump out to pull chase hahaha."

Baines tried to reassure him before taking a dig at their victim's memory.

"Shoulda been alright my brother. You had head down and face to the floor my bro. So they wouldn't have got a clean shot of you," he wrote.

He complained about media reports that painted Barbaro as a "mafioso kingpin", calling their victim a "rat".

Sultani agreed: "I know that Pasq was a big rat".

Just what drove the plot to kill Barbaro, a father-of-two descended from Calabrian mafia figures, remained somewhat of a mystery even after Sultani's admission of guilt and his men's trials.

One theory offered to the juries was that Barbaro's demise came amid rumours of his involvement in the murder of standover man Joe Antoun in 2013.

The court heard Sultani held Antoun as a role model and may have been seeking revenge.

On the day of Barbaro's murder in 2016, a Supreme Court trial began for the men who would be found guilty of Antoun's shooting, including Barbaro's associate Farhad Qaumi.

The court heard allegations the "mafioso" Barbaro had twice backed out of attempts to kill Antoun himself, because his target's family members had answered the door instead.

Sultani has never disclosed why he killed any of his victims.

But he once told a psychologist Barbaro had threatened to kill him and "drop my head at my parent's house", a court heard this week.

His barrister David Dalton SC argued Sultani's crew was mired in gangland tensions over their decision to leave the Rebels, and his client may have killed Barbaro as a pre-emptive strike.

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