‘Prime mover’ in gun-running scheme jailed

The “prime mover” of an interstate gun-running scheme has been jailed, but at least 60 of the firearms he trafficked are still circulating in the criminal underground.

Southeast Queensland man Wayne John Yanko “devised the scheme” in 2016 to legally buy handguns from shops with the intention of selling them on the criminal black market, a Brisbane court heard on Thursday.

But Yanko was ineligible to obtain a firearm dealer licence which Judge Katherine McGinness describes as “the necessary heart of the plan”.


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That was due to his criminal history including serious drug offending for which he served lengthy terms of imprisonment more than 15 years ago.

So he urged an old friend Trevor Manuel and his brother Gregory Manuel to take part in the scheme.

The trio used the company Wyworrie Holdings set up by Trevor Manuel in Western Australia to source 109 firearms during shopping expeditions in Brisbane over two weeks from February 27, 2017.

The men also allegedly bought weapons from a Sydney gun shop, but that was not the subject of the charges Yanko has faced before the Brisbane District Court.

Yanko almost certainly had networks for the supply of the guns, was the “initial prime mover” of the operation and “devised the scheme”, Judge Katherine McGinness said on Thursday.

His offending was more serious than Trevor Manuel who previously pleaded guilty in WA, but not significantly so.

“You each had something to contribute to the scheme once you instigated it,” she told Yanko during sentencing.

“You were all involved in different ways and your common intention was to all benefit financially.”

The Manuel brothers “actively participated in the scheme and did play an integral role primarily for their own reward”, Judge McGinness added.

The trial was shown messages intercepted by authorities in which Yanko and Gregory Manuel tell Trevor Manuel to “get moving” in obtaining the dealer licence.

When they finally got the licence in February 2017, the trio prepared a “wishlist” of handguns.

“The best ones to get and easy to sell is the Glock – I think Australian made, even the knockoffs. Trust me mate, even the knockoffs are good,” Yanko wrote.

“I’ve seen a few, and they’re not bad. It all depends on the price … the quantity, that is. I think get 50 or so together … we will soon know what is what, and what is not.”

The court heard Yanko had a disadvantaged childhood, but was hard-working and had considerable support from family, neighbours and friends.

He “dislocated his entire life”, moving to the Gold Coast hinterland to avoid the escalation of animosity with an outlaw motorcycle gang in WA after being convicted of gun possession in 2013, defence barrister Andrew Hoare said.

Of the 109 weapons the men bought in Queensland, authorities blocked the shipment of 44 and recovered some.

But 60 remain unaccounted for and are believed to be circulating in the criminal underground.

“They remain a lasting threat to public safety,” Judge McGinness said.

Queensland’s Detective Senior Sergeant Tony Parson who led local investigators says guns are trafficked through criminal organisations and will be used corruptly and as trading and intimidation tools

“The firearms are of no benefit being in the community as they are at the moment,” he told AAP outside court.

“They will only produce harm and ill-will towards the general community and it’s in everyone’s best interest the firearms are surrendered and the police take possession of them.”

He said the gun-running operation was “well planned” and the group well established, commending the efforts of WA and Queensland police and help from legitimate gun shop owners.

Judge McGinness sentenced Yanko to eight-and-a-half years in prison, ordering him to serve a non-parole period of six years.

He is the first person in Australia to face trial on charges of cross-border disposal and acquisition of firearms.

Gregory Manuel has evaded Australian authorities by moving to Russia.

© AAP 2021