Peter Abeles

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Person.png Peter Abeles   SourcewatchRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(businessman, gangster)
Born25 April 1924
Vienna, Austria
Died25 June 1999 (Age 75)
Sydney, NSW
Spouse• Claire Dan
Interests • Sydney Connection
• Nugan Hand
• CIA/Drug trafficking
Australian transportation magnate. Friend of crime boss Abe Saffron. Involved in drug trafficking with the Nugan Hand Bank.

Sir Peter Emil Herbert Abeles was an Australian transportation magnate. A Jewish refugee from Hungary, he became a transport tycoon in Australia, where he also was a central figure in organized crime, the so-called Hungarian Mafia around Abe Saffron, and transpacific drug smuggling.


Abeles was born on 25th April 1924 in Vienna, Austria. His father was an affluent metals dealer. The family moved to Hungary to avoid the onslaught on Jewry by rampant fascism. He grew up there, in Budapest. When Germany occupied Hungary in 1944, Abeles, who was Jewish, was sent to a Nazi work camp whilst his family managed to flee to Romania. Surviving the work camp, Abeles later became a cabaret entrepreneur, working in Romania, where in 1947 he met and married his first wife, Claire Dan, a cabaret performer.

Official career

He began his career with a single truck, launching business that prospered and expanded. He merged his company with a small express company called TNT where his talents were recognized by his appointment as chairman and CEO. During his tenure of office, he directed the growth of TNT from a modest beginning to a billion-dollar global corporation.[1] Under Abeles' guidance as managing director, TNT quickly expanded, and by the 1980s had established a presence in 180 countries and was termed "the second biggest transport empire in the world, operating by road, rail, sea and air".[2]

In 1979 Abeles entered into an agreement with media mogul Rupert Murdoch to take over Ansett Airlines. He was chief executive and joint managing director from 1982 until 1992.

In addition to his work for TNT and Ansett, Abeles sat on the board of the Reserve Bank of Australia, and was chairman of the Australian Cancer Research Foundation.

Hungarian mafia

Abeles took over TNT transport business by threatening Ken Thomas, the original owner[3].

Abeles used his transport company to move along with huge volumes of legitimate cargoes large quantities of illegal drugs around Australia and the world, and was closely associated with the notorious Nugan Hand Bank. Michael Hand was involved in the US Central Intelligence Agency's illegal drug activities in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War years. He teamed up with Australian Frank Nugan, who was involved in the wholesale vegetable industry in the New South Wales town of Griffith, which was also the centre of a massive illicit marijuana industry. With Sydney-based CIA operative Bernie Houghton they established in the mid-1970s the Nugan Hand Bank which, in its short life, became involved in global drug- and gun-running activities[4].

The journalist Tony Reeves tells how:

In the 1970s I interviewed a TNT driver who regularly delivered vegetables from the Nugan depot in the NSW town of Griffith. On more than one occasion he was given money at the depot and told to 'go and have a drink; we'll load it tonight', and would return to find his enclosed truck locked with a new padlock. On arrival at Sydney's Flemington Markets, he was once again told to go to the pub: 'We'll unload it today.' On each occasion he found scraps of marijuana leaves in his truck. Narcotics investigators I spoke to over the years said more marijuana was being produced in Australia at this time than could have been used by the domestic market. Brisbane author Dr John Jiggens sets out a strong case for this in his self-published book, The Sydney Connection, suggesting, for example, that a specific crop grown at Coleambally was always destined for the US market. TNT was the only transport company with links from the Griffith area to trans-Pacific ship transport, and coast-to-coast, and even door-to-door, delivery facilities in the United States. It's not proof, but it's a very strong case that TNT was involved in the distribution of drugs within Australia and to overseas destinations. Embattled businessmen Thomas and Alexander Barton, under prosecution in 1978 for fraud, alleged that in 1972 Abeles was 'acting in association with' Bela Csidei, who was later convicted for major drug offences. Allegations were also made during the long-running case that Abeles and Arthur George headed a syndicate which transferred large amounts of money to Swiss banks. Both denied the claims.[5]

Abeles had an association with the US West Coast Mafia and Chicago hit man Aladena 'Jimmy the Weasel' Fratianno to assist him in his business dealings with the Teamsters and Longshoremen's unions in order to ease TNT's entry into the United States.

Arthur George was a director of TNT from 1973, having been associated with Abeles since 1954. In August 1982, George was found guilty of misconduct by a solicitors statutory committee and fined $1000 ($2812). He later sold the law firm he had established in 1938 to David Baffsky of Simons & Baffsky, a lawyer who was publicly identified as acting in property deals, setting up companies and operating trust funds for Abe Saffron.[6]

When deeply corrupt policeman and murderer Fred Krahe was forced out of the police force in 1972 he also briefly took up a place on the TNT Board. Krahe later played a crucialrole in the removal of auditors from investigating the Nugan company, as they were causing the drug-linked company difficulties.[7]

Political connections

When Robert Askin won the 1965 NSW election, Peter Abeles and he became friends. Askin found in Abeles 'a man the State could do business with'. Abeles' company, TNT, was awarded ninety-nine-year leases on large tracts of railway land, giving him unlimited access to move goods by train around the country at minimal cost, while being able to charge his clients full haulage rates.[8]

In 1979 Premier Neville Wran and Abeles signed a $13 million ($48,946,731) contract for the state-owned Newcastle Shipyards to build a ship for TNT bulkships division. By the time the Atlas Dampier rolled down the slipway, the deal had cost New South Wales $7 million ($26,355,932) in losses, and there were suggestions the dockyard had been persuaded to put in a bid for the job that was far too low. The dockyard closed after the debacle with loss of jobs, and Peter Abeles sailed away with a new ship heavily subsidised by NSW taxpayers.[9]

In March 1977, Labor state MP Clifford Mallam took up the theme when he told state parliament that a 'form of Mafia comprising crooked company directors, many of them close to Askin', was operating in New South Wales. 'Bela Csidei flitted out of the country with $1,800,000 ($12,012,875) and has been charged with this offence', he said:

He and Peter Abeles were mentioned in the reports. I refer to that organisation known as Askin's Knights, or the Hungarian Mafia. Many of these crooked company directors use every loophole in the law to see that investigations into their affairs take as long as possible and hopefully are forgotten . . . Many of them travelled overseas with [Askin]. He even took some of them behind the iron curtain. Some of these people were able to borrow through the State Superannuation Fund to finance the construction of large buildings.[10]

Peter Abeles and Arthur George were knighted on Askin's recommendation in 1972. Their close ally, Paul Strasser of Parkes Development, earned his knighthood a year later. Rumours persisted for years that they had each paid Askin a 'king's ransom for a queen's gong'. When Askin left politics he was asked by Abeles to join the TNT Board, and by 1978 had been given 110,000 shares in the multinational corporation.[11]

He was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1991.[12]

He was named Australian of the Year by Rupert Murdoch's The Australian newspaper in 1987.

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  2. Hawke, Bob (29 June 1999). "Transport giant a passionate patriot". The Australian.
  3. Tony Reeves, "Mr Sin", Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 2007, page 119-120
  4. Tony Reeves, "Mr Sin", Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 2007, page 113-114
  5. Tony Reeves, "Mr Sin", Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 2007, page 115-116
  6. Tony Reeves, "Mr Sin", Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 2007, page 115-116
  7. Tony Reeves, "Mr Sin", Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 2007, page 115-116
  8. Tony Reeves, "Mr Sin", Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 2007, page 113-114
  9. Tony Reeves, "Mr Sin", Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 2007, page 117-118
  10. Tony Reeves, "Mr Sin", Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 2007, page 117-118
  11. Tony Reeves, "Mr Sin", Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 2007, page 115-116