Joseph was hunted by enemies and NSW cops

Jamie McKinnell

Sydney gangland figure Raphael Joseph was a wanted man.

Accused of using a 9mm Glock handgun to shoot a man dead outside a Sydney pub in 2002, he became a fugitive as those linked to the crime endured terrifying revenge attacks.

His driver that night, Sandro Mirad, pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact to murder and requested protection when friends and relatives of the victim, 28-year-old Dimitri Debaz, sought vengeance.

In late 2002, a hand grenade was thrown into a house where one of Mirad's friends lived, while his co-accused's parents were also targeted with a bomb.

But it wasn't just those directly involved who were in the crosshairs - even those who were believed to know Joseph's location were interrogated and tortured.

One man had his face slashed with razor blades and was shot in the leg, face and hand, while one of Joseph's cousins was also kidnapped and shot.

The Iraqi-born Australian citizen had in fact fled to the United States where, in the words of his American lawyer Randall Hamud, he became "a survivor".

It wasn't until October 2006, at a San Diego coffee shop, that a tip Joseph could have been an illegal immigrant led to his arrest.

It marked the beginning of a long battle to avoid being extradited to Australia.

After checking his fingerprints, US authorities discovered Joseph was a murder suspect.

They became suspicious when he requested deportation to Iraq.

Anywhere, it seemed, was better than Australia, where he claimed to have a $100,000 bounty on his head.

Mr Hamud said thugs had been hired to find and kill Joseph "just like in the Godfather genre movies".

In a last-ditch attempt to avoid extradition, Mr Hamud compiled a petition to then-US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in 2008.

Joseph would be a dead man if he was sent back, Hamud said, and the prosecution case against him for the 2002 shooting was "flimsy" and "convoluted".

He painted a bleak picture of Sydney's criminal underbelly and said the city was controlled and terrorised by Lebanese gangs.

Even in prison Joseph would not be out of reach of his hunters, Mr Hamud argued.

Joseph lost the extradition fight and faced a Sydney court in 2008, however the case against him was later dropped.

He was last seen getting into a car in March 2014 with at least two men at McDonald's in Auburn.

A breakthrough in the case this week led detectives to a rural property at Blaxlands Ridge, on Sydney's outskirts, where it's believed the 37-year-old's body was disposed of after he was murdered by a drug syndicate.

After Joseph vanished, Mirad joined others searching for him and found his friend's .38 calibre revolver at his house.

Mirad was later charged for unlawfully possessing the firearm and in 2016 a court heard he took it because he didn't want Joseph's family to find it.

The court also heard Mirad lived with his parents and police officers had begun visiting daily, making him nervous.

Mirad told a psychologist that when he asked the officers if they were worried, they replied "if we didn't think anything, we wouldn't be here", which he interpreted to mean his life was in danger.

He began to "consciously" view his murdered friend's gun as a source of protection.

The homicide squad's Detective Chief Inspector Grant Taylor has named greed as a possible motive for Joseph's murder.

That he got into the silver Commodore that night voluntarily shows he trusted its occupants - which is telling for a man who knew there was a target on his back.

"We know very well there were several people involved in this murder, we know who they are, and they can expect a visit from us in the near future," Chief Insp Taylor said on Tuesday.