Life and times of a bikie prince
AT THE height of the Sydney bikie wars of 2009, the young and handsome Comanchero gang president Mahmoud "Mick" Hawi appeared to have it all.
The national leader of one of Australia's most forbidding outlaw motorcycle groups, who was then 28 years old, had all the trappings of the successful bikie. Wealth, power, a beautiful wife, two children and a seeming ability to cheat death were in the palm of his hand.
He was well-groomed, with a taste for gold and diamond jewellery and stood out among his bikie boss counterparts. Hawi was also extremely careful about his personal security and sometimes travelled in a bulletproof vehicle.
It was a necessary precaution after he had narrowly escaped death in November 2007 when the car he was travelling in was sprayed with bullets outside Grappa Ristorante in the inner Sydney suburb of Leichhardt.
At around 2pm on the busy Italian restaurant strip, two men pumped up to ten shots into an Audi and a Mazda as they sped away. Hawi later boasted one bullet round had lodged into his car seat headrest.
Two years later, wars between motorcycle gangs had erupted. Bikies were reportedly stealing cars and carrying out drive-by shootings against their rivals. A Hells Angel Club house at Petersham, in Sydney's inner west, was bombed.
But it was in March 2009, when a violent and fatal brawl broke out in the domestic terminal of Sydney airport, that violence spilt into the public domain. And it was Hawi who stepped forward and called for calm.
On a Sunday afternoon, Anthony "Tony" Zervas, 29, was clubbed with a 17kg metal bollard and stabbed with a pair of scissors.
Zervas had just got off a flight with his brother Peter, a senior Hells Angel, and the president of the Hells Angels Guildford chapter, Derek Wainohu.
Sources suggested a rival Bandido had either been on the aircraft or met the Hells Angels when they arrived in Sydney. The brawl appeared to be a bikie turf war over drugs and money.
Enter Mick Hawi, with his message of conciliation.
Born in Beirut, Hawi had emigrated with his family to Australia and attended Punchbowl High School. His Lebanese immigrant family appeared modest, although Hawi himself was rumoured to be "f***ing loaded" with a large property portfolio.
At the very least, Hawi had the dark good looks and confident demeanour to fool an audience.
He called for peace talks between rival gang leaders. He said he was aware of public concern for their safety, and announced he was barring his members from wearing gang colours or riding their bikes.
He had been at Sydney airport during the brawl and, sources said, had been stabbed in the arm. His position as Comanchero president put him in physical danger, but he was used to that.
Hawi said he wanted to meet with fellow bikie leaders, but there was a secret behind his public placation.
It wasn't the first time Hawi had called for calm, with a hidden agenda. He had been a driving force behind the trend of bringing young men of Middle Eastern backgrounds into the bikie fold.
And following the Cronulla riots in 2005, when young Middle Eastern Australians clashed with a largely "Anglo" crowd, he appealed for calm and met with the Maroubra gang, the Bra Boys.
One bikie associate told the Daily Telegraph in 2009, "He is very, very smart and people are jealous. He's f***ing loaded, he's got properties all over the place."
Immediately after the airport brawl, police charged five men with offences including affary, but none directly with Tony Zervas' death.
Then eight days after the brutal murder at the airport, Tony's brother, Peter Zervas, was shot at least four times in the driveway of the family home at Lakemba in western Sydney.
By early April, Hawi had vanished, and there were reports he was on the run from police, who wanted to question him about his involvement in the fatal terminal fight.
The Comanchero bikie chief's lawyer issued a statement, saying Hawi would honour arrangements to meet with detectives.
Witnesses to the airport fight said Hawi left the scene telling Peter Zervas: "You're dead. You're f**ing dead. Next time we see you, you're going to have bullet holes through you."
Hawi handed himself in to police and was charged with murder. Found guilty, he was sentenced to a maximum of 28 years in prison, with a non-parole period of 21 years.
But in 2014, the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal set aside the conviction and Hawi was then released on bail.
The Comanchero was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter and given a six-year sentence, then released for time already served.
It is unclear whether time he had spent in prison had dulled Mick Hawi's sense of caution, or whether the change in bikie gang fortunes meant he no longer saw the need for bulletproof cars.
But just after midday on Thursday, as Hawi sat in his four wheel drive inside a gym car park in the southern Sydney suburb of Rockdale, death came calling.
Mick Hawi was shot in the face by an unidentified assailant, and died in St George Hospital on Thursday afternoon.