[WATCH] Exiled ‘president’ yearns for his family

Alex Vella, president of the Rebels Motorcycle Club, is stranded in Malta after his visa ban to return to Australia – where he has lived for 40 years – was upheld in court.

Alex Vella: the Rebels MC president has no choice but to stay in Malta for the time being. Photo: Ray Attard
Alex Vella: the Rebels MC president has no choice but to stay in Malta for the time being. Photo: Ray Attard
Alex Vella, president of the Rebels MC, still in Malta after Australian court upholds visa ban

The future looks bleak for Alex Vella, 61, president of Australia’s largest bikie club – or OMCG, outlaw motorcycle gang – after his legal bid to have his visa ban revoked was turned down by Australia’s highest court. A Maltese national who has lived in Australia for 46 years since his parents and siblings migrated there, he never applied for citizenship.

But since presiding over the expansion of the Rebels Motorcycle Club into Australia’s largest OMCG, Vella has been targeted for expulsion. And it was last year while on holiday in Malta, that Vella was refused a visa to re-enter the country. 10 months down the line, his lawyers have failed to convince the courts to disclose the intelligence on which immigration minister Scott Morrison based his decision to refuse him a visa.

“I’m very disappointed,” Vella says. “I’m innocent of any charges they can throw at me. I have never been to prison. I always obeyed the law… there is nothing much I can do, nothing the lawyers can do. It’s very wrong. I’ve been told by my lawyer that it’s corruption from high up,” he says of the high court decision.

“I’m stranded here. There are no more steps after the high court. That’s where it stops.”

But Vella’s mind is on his family, his children and grandchildren, and his business interests in Australia. “[My family] will probably come and see me, but even if my wife comes over, after a few months she’ll want to go back to the children. If she spends time with me, she will be separated from the rest of the family.”

Vella is a genial interviewee. He is having coffee at the Olympic in Mosta with friends – not the daunting, leather-clad bikers he holds court with – but locals enjoying the sun on May Day. His daily walk is part of his routine while in ‘exile’ from the land where his wife, children and grandchildren live.

This simple existence seems to belie the intimidating persona of the president of an ‘outlaw motorcycle gang’, the largest in Australia, and the focus of a specialised task force – Attero – which says it has carried out over 700 arrests or summons for ‘OMCG’ (outlaw motorcycle gang) members.

Vella himself was convicted for the possession of a trafficable amount of marijuana back in 1995, receiving an 18-month sentence of two-nights-a-week prison, and two-days-a-week community service. He was subsequently forced to pay $650,000 to the New South Wales Crime Commission to settle a proceeds-of-crime action.

But the former boxing champion has also built himself an impressive property investment portfolio, and readily admits having reached a settlement of over $1.2 million with the Australian tax authorities.

“I use money as a tool,” he says of the third-party settlements that provided him with the capital for his business. First, he got over $225,000 in compensation when he was in an accident, using it to set up his business importing and selling motorcycles. In 2008 he sued the ANZ Bank after former business partner Tony Caradonna allegedly re-mortgaged three properties, including the Rebels’ club house, for $2.4 million by falsifying Vella’s signature. Vella also says he sued several media outlets for defamation.

That cash allowed him to be a property investor, he says with a gruff, affected Maltese-Australian accent. “Like that house for sale over there,” he points to a property on Eucharistic Congress Road. “I could easily make three shops out of it.”

Vella claims bikies are unfairly targeted for their lifestyle choice, and that law enforcement makes it impossible for them to hold down legal jobs. But the Attero National Task Force, established in 2012 specifically to dismantle the “criminal activities of the Rebels”, describes Vella’s club as “one of Australia’s highest risk criminal threats”.

“In full fairness… if a priest does something wrong, do they arrest the Pope for it? If a police does something wrong, do they charge the Commissioner of Police? Why me? Had I been with them guys committing the crime, I’d take the fault for it. But this is like a big family – if your son is away and has done something wrong, does the parent pay for that?”

Vella plays down the extent of OMCG criminality. “Their criminal activity is a percentage of what people dressed in suits and ties do. Most criminal activities have nothing to do with motorcycle clubs… they (the police) make a big fuss out of the little [bikies] do to throw the spotlight on us.”

Even Vella’s future as president of the Rebels now appears in the balance. He takes pride in his role as head of a club that has to keep check on its members – a job that requires him being a ‘tough guy’ as well. “Yes, you have to be. We have rules that we all agree on. When you step out of line, we step you out of the club… then again, there are other things you do that don’t concern the club. We don’t tell people to deal in drugs – that’s their business, not mine.”

It will be up to the Rebels to decide whether to vote Vella again as president. But his main concern appears being far away from his family. “I’ve been here 10 months and 22 days… you get up in the morning, have a walk and a coffee with people. They tell me, ‘this is ok…’ but I tell them ‘where are you going from here?’ They go home. I’m not… I’m going to a place I’m renting… looking at the walls, instead of my family.”