It was the crime that brought simmering tensions between former friends to a tragic - and very public - climax. SHANNON TONKIN reports.
Four men jailed over the contract killing of Dragan Sekuljica at Splashes Nightclub in 2007 have launched legal action to have their convictions overturned.
Illawarra criminals Zlatan Popovic, Dalibor Bubanja and Jason Hristovski and Sydney ‘gun for hire’ Tevi Koloamatangi were each found guilty of Mr Sekuljica’s murder following a lengthy trial in 2014, two years after their arrest.
A Supreme Court jury heard the father-of-two was shot four times by a masked gunman at the popular Cliff Road nightclub in the early hours of September 8, months after a falling out with former close friends the Bubanja family and Popovic.
The gunman, Koloamatangi was jailed for life, while the plan’s primary organiser, Popovic, was jailed for at least 26 years.
Bubanja, who acted as a lookout that night, was also jailed for a minimum of 26 years after Acting Justice Robert Hulme found he had been motivated to help kill Mr Sekuljica’s believing his former friend was “a dog” and “talking to police”.
Hristovski, who supplied the gun and also acted as a lookout, was sentenced to a minimum of 22 years.
However, the Mercury can reveal 18 months after their convictions all four men still maintain their innocence and are seeking to have the jury’s decision reversed in the state’s highest court.
Their case is set to be heard in the Court of Criminal Appeal on August 3, however a decision is not expected until later this year.
Splashes Nightclub murder: the contract killing that took half a decade to solve
It was the crime that brought simmering tensions between former friends to a tragic - and very public - climax.
Dragan Sekuljica, one-time close friend of the Bubanja family, was gunned down inside Splashes Nightclub in the early hours of Saturday, September 8, 2007.
The father-of-two was first shot as he left the nightclub to get into a taxi across the road shortly before 3am.
Wounded, he ran back into the nightclub but collapsed near the bar as the shooter fired a further three shots execution-style, including a fatal bullet to his head.
A security guard was also shot in the arm.
Police would later learn Mr Sekuljica had had a major falling out with the Bubanja family patriarch, Zoran, in the 12-18 months before the shooting.
Zoran’s son, Dalibor Bubanja, believed their former friend had turned police informant and needed to be eliminated.
Bubanja family friend and convicted killer Zlatan Popovic came on board to organise the hit, having also fallen out with Mr Sekuljica.
He hired contract killer Tevi Koloamatangi to carry out the shooting, and had another associate, Jason Hristovski, provided the murder weapon.
Bubanja helped Popovic plan the murder and along with Hristovski acted as a lookout that night, providing information on Mr Sekuljica's movements in and out of the club until Koloamatangi was ready to make his move.
It took less than two minutes for the fatal act to play out, but it would take another five years before police gathered enough evidence to make arrests.
Their breakthrough came when they convinced the group’s getaway driver to turn prosecution witness in exchange for immunity for his own involvement.
Justin Irwin’s evidence against the four accused men proved vital in linking them to both the planning of and the carrying out of the crime.
Irwin told the men’s Supreme Court trial of conversations to which he was privy in which Mr Sekuljica’s impending execution and its planning was discussed.
He also told the court he was the one who drove Koloamatangi to and from the nightclub that night, and back to his home in Sydney after the shooting.
Irwin’s account of the group’s movements that night was backed by a chronological record of phone calls made and/or received by phones belonging to each of the defendants.
The jury returned guilty verdicts for murder against all four men after a lengthy trial.
However, they were acquitted of a shooting with intent to murder charge in relation to the wounding of the security guard.
Koloamatangi was sentenced to life in prison, with Acting Justice Robert Hulme finding that given he was a ‘gun for hire’, the community was “at grave risk whenever Mr Koloamatangi is at liberty”.
He sentenced Popovic and Bubanja each to 34 years with a non-parole period of 26 years and Hristovski 29 years with a non-parole period of 22 years.
All four men have lodged appeals against their convictions. The appeals will be heard on August 3.
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