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14 May 2007

Terror Nine's $4.5m legal bill

NINE men facing charges over the manufacture of explosives for a holy war in the nation's biggest terror trial will have their legal bills of more than $4.5 million picked up by taxpayers

The Daily Telegraph can reveal the trial will be a fees bonanza for the Sydney legal fraternity, with each of the charged individuals getting their own Senior Counsel, costing taxpayers $219,436, a junior counsel costing $135,202 and solicitors costing up to $90,164 each.

Legal Aid Commission documents outlining "projected expenditure" for the nine men charged following Operation Pandanus raids in November 2005 show that taxpayers can expect future terror trials to cost dearly.

The total cost of the trials – $4,525,244 – is equal to a sizeable chunk of the $68 million in legal aid devoted to all criminal matters in NSW all last financial year.

Sources spoken to by this newspaper suggested the prosecution's own costs were likely to be $500,000.

Legal Aid is so stretched it is rarely given for committal proceedings but the nine men facing terrorist charges were each given both a solicitor and a barrister each for those proceedings.

The total bill for their committal hearings alone comes to $496,520.

The men facing trial are Moustafa Cheikho, Khaled Cheikho, Khaled Sharrouf, Mohammed Ali Elomar, Abdul Rakib Hasan, Omar Umar Sariff Baladjam, Mirsad Mulahalilovic, Mohammed Omar Jamal and Mazen Touma.

They were arrested in late 2005 in raids on homes and businesses throughout Sydney's southwest.

It is claimed the men stockpiled hundreds of litres of the volatile chemical acetone and had proposed to use it in a holy war against Australia.

Following a two-month committal at Penrith Local Court, they were last month committed to stand trial charged with conspiring to plan and commit a massive terrorist act in Sydney.

The projected expenditure budget, obtained from the Legal Aid Commission under Freedom of Information laws, is by no means the full cost to taxpayers.

The cost of the entire investigation is more than $10 million.

All the nine NSW men's legal expenses are being covered by a Federal Government grant because the charges have been laid under federal law.

Not only is it the biggest terror trial in Australia's history, the brief of evidence is the largest ever gathered for a criminal trial, filling 200 Lever Arch folders.

The cases against each of the men are different and one barrister could not defend them all.

"It is an exceptional case. It involves life imprisonment and a very serious charge and it has an absolutely huge amount of documentary evidence," said solicitor John North, who represents Khaled Sharrouf.

POSTED BY /http://www.news.com.au

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