In In the Courts by Clyde Mooney

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The cowboys of Carlton have copped a whopping fine for the illegal demolition of the beloved Corkman Irish Pub, bringing the total to almost $2 million, and they may yet still need to rebuild it.

Developers Raman Shaqiri and Stefce Kutlesovski bought the 1858 pub on the corner of Pelham and Leicester Streets for $4.76 million at auction in late 2014, under their company name 160 Leicester P/L.

The venue was closed soon after and remained dormant until a suspicious fire erupted in it in October 2016. Under pretence of an unsafe site, Shaqiri and Kutlesovski turned up a week later with their demolition company Shaq Industries, and levelled the 158-year-old building without building or planning approval.

Image: Lyn George

A week later, the EPA having discovered asbestos on the site and ordered it to be covered, contaminated refuse shown to have come from the Corkman was found at one of the pair’s other development sites, near homes and a school.

In the whirlwind that followed, they vowed to rebuild the historic pub, which while not listed on the Victorian Heritage register, did hold some heritage protection and considerable unsung public affection. 

In May 2018, Shaqiri and company 160 Leicester pleaded guilty to charges. Kutlesovski plead guilty at his hearing in January this year.

Late last year the EPA subsequently fined the two men and a company a total of $540k for the illegal dumping and infractions. 

This week Magistrate Ross Maxted handed down sentence, speaking of consequence sufficient enough to deter this kind of behaviour by developers who may see penalties as merely a cost of maximising an investment. The Corkman site was speculated to have increased in value by several million with the pub gone. 

Maxted issued what is believed to be the biggest infringement of its kind in Victoria, fining the company $850k, Shaqiri $220k and Kutlesovski $255k.

The Magistrate described the actions as “reprehensible” and says this kind of thing must be deterred.

“Such recklessness and bravado and such disrespect for proper compliance will be severely punished.

“The penalties will be imposed to deter such speculative and base mercantile thinking and behaviour.”

Two years on since making the promise to rebuild to planning minister Richard Wynne, no application has been submitted and nothing done. Maxted also noted how they had “not taken steps to honour” their pledge.

They may not be off the hook yet, with the Minister also believed to be still pursuing the order to rebuild.

The Andrews government in Victoria reacted to the incident by greatly increasing financial penalties for illegal demolition, with potential in the worst cases for jail time to be issued. These new rules do not apply here, as they came after the Corkman was knocked down.

The cowboys, who say they have been socially and financially crippled by their error of judgement, will likely appeal the severity of the fines.

Corkman Irish Pub. Image: Victoria State Library