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Managing Director of Jeep Australia Clyde Campbell.

Managing Director of Jeep Australia Clyde Campbell. Photo: Jesse Marlow

Clyde Campbell, the former Fiat Chrysler Australia boss at the centre of a $30 million scandal rocking the auto-maker, has previously faced criminal charges for stealing cars and was once involved with an interstate car theft racket that operated in Victoria, NSW and South Australia.

Last month Fairfax Media revealed that Mr Campbell was being sued by Fiat Chrysler, which has accused him of misappropriating and misusing more than $30 million of company money to fund an extravagant lifestyle for his family and business associates.

Now it can be revealed that Mr Campbell was charged with a number of car theft offences between 1990 and 1992, in the wake of an 18-month investigation by South Australia’s Organised Crime Task Force and Victoria Police.

In January 1991, Clyde Anthony Campbell, then aged 23, appeared before Melbourne Magistrates Court and pleaded guilty to two charges of of receiving stolen goods and one charge of obtaining property by deception after being found in possession of a stolen vehicle. Mr Campbell was sentenced to a good behaviour bond of $2000 for 12 months, fined $1000 and ordered to pay $10,000 in compensation.

In an ironic twist, the stolen car found in Mr Campbell’s possession by Victoria Police was a Fiat. 

The following year Mr Campbell appeared before the Adelaide Magistrates Court, after being implicated in a car theft racket that allegedly stole 10 cars in Adelaide worth $153,000 between May 1989 and September 1990.

The stolen cars were transported to a panel beating shop in Melbourne, where they were given the identities of written-off vehicles and sold.

Mr Campbell, then aged 24, was initially charged with eight offences, for both the theft of cars and for receiving stolen goods. 

Brenton McGrath, then aged 30, his wife Karen McGrath, then aged 31, both of O’Sullivan Beach in Adelaide, and Darren McGrath, then aged 32, of Nunawading in Melbourne, were also charged over the thefts.

In total, the gang was charged with 20 offences over the theft of 10 vehicles.

A committal hearing was held at Adelaide Magistrates Court on February 17, 1992, and the court heard South Australia’s Organised Crime Task Force had cracked the criminal ring after working through a “complicated paper trail”.

At that hearing it was revealed that Mr Campbell had struck a deal with prosecutors. Police prosecutor Sergeant Bryan Morden told the court Mr Campbell would be giving evidence against the McGraths, and said eight charges of theft and receiving stolen goods against Mr Campbell had been dropped. 

Mr Campbell instead pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact to a felony, and comforting and harbouring Brenton and Darren McGrath on two occasions knowing they had received a stolen vehicle.

According to records obtained by Fairfax Media, Mr Campbell was given a suspended 12-month sentence with a two-year good behaviour bond, and fined $1000.

Darren McGrath said  the gang stole up to 90 cars across Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide between 1989 and 1990, before they were caught. “We would steal up to three cars in Sydney on the one night and bring them to Melbourne,” he said.

Mr McGrath said he became a friend of the Campbell family when they were living in Adelaide in the late 1970s. 

He and Mr Campbell then shared a house together in Donvale, in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, during the period when the car thefts took place. In 1990 their Donvale house was raided by Victoria Police, who served warrants on behalf of their South Australian counterparts. 

“They found some of the stolen cars and that was it, we were charged,” Mr McGrath said. 

Mr McGrath and his brother were given three-year suspended sentences for the crimes. “I am not proud of my involvement and do not deny I did the crime,” Mr McGrath said. 

After completing his law degree Mr Campbell secured a job as in-house counsel for Daimler-Chrysler Australia in 2003, before going on to be the managing director of one of Australia’s largest car companies.

Fiat Chrysler Australia will on Friday head to court in an effort to freeze the assets of Mr Campbell and his wife Simone, including their family home in Brighton and holiday homes in Victoria and Queensland.

The US-based car manufacturer is seeking to reclaim company money that it alleges Mr Campbell spent with businesses controlled or owned by himself, his wife Simone, business associates and personal friends during his tenure as managing director of the local subsidiary from 2010 to 2013.

Sam Bond, lawyer for Mr Campbell, did not respond to questions.