A plot to kill the members of a controversial rap group was likely motivated by conflict between an organised crime gang and the would-be victims, police say.
Two men have been charged after detectives busted a criminal cell allegedly behind multiple contract kidnappings and a plan to target Sydney-based drill rap group ONEFOUR.
The cell’s alleged leader was arrested in a raid at Cartwright, in Sydney’s southwest, early on Thursday.
Brandon Maseuli, 26, was charged with 20 offences, including conspiracy to murder, kidnapping, directing a criminal group and multiple weapons, drug and robbery-related crimes.
Yousef Rima, 20, was arrested in the nearby suburb of Sadleir and was charged with similar conspiracy and drug offences as well as participating in a criminal group.
Both men appeared in Liverpool Local Court on Thursday where their bail, granted after being charged with prior offences, was revoked.
Maseuli appeared in court on crutches, wearing an external fixator around his calf. He winked at a supporter as he was escorted away by three sheriffs.
Four members of the rap group, Jerome “J Emz” Misa, Pio “YP” Misa, Spencer, “Spenny” Magalogo and Dahcell “Celly” Ramos, were allegedly the targets of the plot.
Organised Crime Squad commander Peter Faux alleged the cell had taken on a contract to murder the four high-profile men.
“We believe that contract was taken on … on behalf of another organised crime network,” he said.
“There are a number of motives we’re looking at, but it’s highly likely there’s a conflict between the organised crime group that took out this contract and the intended victims.”
The criminals had carried out extensive surveillance of the rap group members as part of the plot, police said.
ONEFOUR has attracted long-standing police attention for their music, which focuses on western Sydney gang subcultures and includes lyrics that frequently mention violence.
In 2019, they were forced to cancel a national tour after venues were unable to meet security requirements demanded by police.
Detective Superintendent Faux said the cell was believed to be linked to the Haouchar crime syndicate, which has largely been operated from gang leaders based in Lebanon.
It has been tied to $1.5 billion in cryptocurrency transactions and various firearm, drug, tobacco and money-laundering offences.
The splinter cell was also allegedly behind a kidnapping in March, the robbery of 39kg of cocaine from a truck driver in October, and a foiled December raid on a Ryde apartment that was housing more than 700kg in cocaine.
Police responded to reports of a break-in at the northwest Sydney property and arrested four men, who were found in the unit block’s underground car park sitting in a car and wearing all-black clothing and face coverings.
Officers later searched the apartment and found cocaine worth an estimated $1 billion before arresting the resident Hussein Hamed Habeeb, who police said tried to escape by jumping off the balcony.
Maseuli was charged in December with attempted kidnapping and firearm possession and released on bail.
He played a significant role in organising the splinter cell to kidnap Habeeb, Detective Superintendent Joseph Doueihi said.
The 26-year-old was responsible for many other serious crimes including conspiracies to murder, drug importation, aggravated break and enters and firearm offences, Detective Doueihi said.
Police have charged 28 people with various offences related to organised crime as part of the probe, which detectives say has resulted in the Haouchar network being largely dismantled.