News / Crime

‘Targeted attack’: reception centre goes up in flames

Fire linked to deadly feud between organised crime figureheads

The back entrance of the venue has been boarded up after the fire.

Brunswick Voice


A SUSPICIOUS fire at a Sydney Road function centre has been linked to Melbourne’s ongoing ‘tobacco wars’ between two organised crime groups.

Phoenicia Reception, a venue above the Brunswick Market building, suffered significant fire damage early on Tuesday morning.

Detectives from Taskforce Lunar, the special operation set up last October in response to the bitter and violent dispute between the Haddara and Hamad crime organisations, are investigating a suspected arson attack.

The fire comes just weeks after a blaze just dozens of metres on the other side of Sydney Road caused the indefinite closure of the Brunswick Supa IGA store. A reception centre owned by the same company as Phoenicia operates out of the same building as the IGA.

Both buildings are within 100 metres of the Brunswick Police Station.


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Fire Rescue Victoria was alerted to the fire at Phoenicia Reception, which occupies the entire upper level of the Brunswick Market building, at 4.58am on Tuesday. Emergency crews arrived at the scene within six minutes to find the flames had spread to the roof space.

Photos on social media showed the back part of the venue completely on fire.

Crews using breathing apparatus attacked the fire to bring it under control by 5.19am.

With TV news helicopters hovering overhead, a crime scene was established because of the suspicious nature of the crime, which was being treated as a targeted attack.

An arson chemist attended the site along with detectives who will investigate whether the fire is linked to a spate of other recent arson attacks, including two last week at function centres in Thornbury and Thomastown.

On Wednesday morning, smoke could still be smelt near the back entrance to the venue, which is adjacent to a public car park accessed by a concrete ramp from William Street. A large skip was half full of debris from the fire, including badly burnt and smoke damaged rugs.

A security camera appeared to have been in place above the entrance.

According to its website, Phoenicia Receptions can seat up to 350 people and is available for hire for weddings, corporate functions and other events.

It is one of five function venues owned by WA Events, including the Almina venues in Brunswick and Docklands.

The Docklands venue was extensively damaged by an arson attack in December, while a fire in the same building as Almina Brunswick last month led to the closure of the Supa IGA store.

Fire Rescue Victoria has stated that the IGA fire was caused by an electrical fault and was not being treated as suspicious.

That fire started in an upstairs office area of the supermarket. Almina is also above the supermarket.

The company which owns all three venues is understood to take its name from the initials of concert promoter, Walid Abdo, who is an associate of alleged crime figure Fadi Haddara.

According to an in-depth report by The Age newspaper this week, Haddara’s crime organisation is embroiled in a battle for control of Melbourne’s lucrative illicit tobacco market and has been targeted by rival Kazem Hamad.

Several buildings with links to Haddara have been firebombed in recent months.

Investigators of the Phoenicia Reception fire are appealing for anyone who may have seen anyone acting suspiciously in the area or with information to come forward.

Anyone who witnessed the incident or with dashcam footage is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or crimestoppersvic.com.au


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