Drug kingpin Tony Mokbel's apparent role as a prison enforcer who interfered with an extortion racket run by Pacific Islander inmates may have sparked a vicious stabbing attack that left him fighting for his life.
Two Islander prisoners have been charged with trying to murder Mokbel at Victoria's maximum-security Barwon Prison the day after a newspaper reported he recently intervened in a standover scheme.
Mokbel, serving a 30-year sentence, was also bragging that he was very confident he would be freed from jail over the 'Lawyer X' scandal.
Corrections Commissioner Emma Cassar said it was too early to say what prompted the attack, including whether there was a "power play" within the jail.
She would not confirm the accuracy of Sunday's Herald Sun report about Mokbel's role as an enforcer who disrupted an extortion racket being run by Islander inmates.
Asked if there was such a racket, Dr Cassar said "not to my knowledge".
"We have very sophisticated intelligence systems which detect, alert us to any extortion or other issues that are going on within the prison and we're very quick to get ahead of those," she told ABC radio on Tuesday.
Asked on 3AW if authorities were aware of tensions between Mokbel and a group of Islanders, Dr Cassar said: "There's always things that we have to keep on top of".
Mokbel, 53, remains in a critical condition in hospital.
CCTV showed him being attacked in an exercise yard at the jail on Monday afternoon.
"He was approached by two prisoners who assaulted him, knocked him to the ground and you can see the footage very clearly showing a number of stabbing actions," Dr Cassar said.
Three homemade weapons were recovered nearby.
There was no indication a prisoner injured trying to help Mokbel was his bodyguard, she added.
The 31-year-old spent a night in Geelong hospital before being returned to Barwon.
Dr Cassar said security and risks were reassessed following Sunday's article.
Corrections had also taken a number of steps for prisoners, including Mokbel, ahead of Friday's first sitting of a royal commission into the Lawyer X scandal.
"He was very confident he would get out of jail," Dr Cassar said, agreeing it was likely irritating other prisoners.
Dr Cassar said there was nothing to indicate a link between the attack and the inquiry into Mokbel's former barrister being a long-time police informer, but it would be investigated.
From inside Barwon, Russell Street bomber Craig Minogue claimed the attack on Mokbel was sparked by Sunday's "enforcer" media article, which he claimed was timed ahead of the royal commission.
Two 21-year-old men will appear in Geelong Magistrates Court on Friday charged with stabbing Mokbel and the other prisoner.
They face multiple charges including attempted murder.
Mokbel was stabbed in the same prison where fellow gangland identity Carl Williams was murdered by an inmate in April 2010, on the day a newspaper reported police had paid his daughter's private school fees.
Dr Cassar said they were very different scenarios despite both being high-profile prisoners.
Australian Associated Press