Category Archives:Drug Importation

95 kilos of cocaine in the luggage of just 3 people?

It’s a case that raises more questions than answers.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Australian Border Force (AFB) are claiming that three Canadian tourists carried bags stuffed with 95 kilos of cocaine into Sydney, after apparently having the time of their lives in several South American countries.

They say a law enforcement operation involving agencies from around the world resulted in a raid on the Sea Princess while it was docked in Sydney Harbour.

Officers searched the ship when it berthed, allegedly finding suitcases full of the illegal white powder. It is the biggest seizure of narcotics through a passenger stream into Australia.

The cocaine, with an estimated street value of over $30 million, is said to have been stashed in luggage linked to two women in their 20s and a man in his 60s.

The trio were arrested and charged with importing a commercial quantity of cocaine, an offence which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The Sea Princess travelled from Southampton in England, where the three Canadians boarded, and stopped over at a number of South American countries, including Colombia, Peru and Chile.

The AFP is unable to say whether the drugs were loaded onto the ship during one of those stops, or how the passengers were able to have so much cocaine alongside their ‘regular’ belongings.

International operation led to bust

Law enforcement officials are claiming to have disrupted a major international crime syndicate which they say was attempting to flood Australian streets with illegal drugs, although no further details have been provided. The ship was destined for other ports in Australia, but authorities are unable to say which cities the drugs were ultimately intended for.

The defendants came before Central Local Court where they did not apply for bail, and were formally refused.

Not the first cruise ship seizure

Tim Fitzgerald, the regional commander for the ABF in NSW, says this is not the first cruise ship seizure in our state:

“We had a similar situation last year … but this is the largest,” he said.

He went on to speak of the AFB’s success in seizing drugs:

“Last financial year alone the Border Force intercepted 18,000 [importations of] narcotics at our various borders, international mail centres, airports, sea ports, sea cargo, air cargo — 22.5 tonnes of narcotics… have been detected in two years.”

However, most agree this is a drop in the ocean compared to the overall quantity of drugs imported into Australia.

The three defendants will face court again in October, unless their lawyers make an application for bail beforehand.

Their defence, if they have one, is not yet known – although 95 kilos seems a lot of cocaine unless some other party had a hand in the events.

United Nations on Drug Reform – All Talk, No Action

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has released its annual World Drug Report, with mixed results in the area of drug use and trafficking.

Overall, the UN estimates that 1 in 20 adults worldwide used an illicit drug in 2014, a figure which has remained steady over the past four years.

The bad news is that the number of people suffering from drug-use disorders has increased, hitting a record 29 million in 2014. According to the report, the health costs are particularly concerning as an estimated 12 million people are injecting drugs, with 14% living with HIV.

New Trends

UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov outlined a number of further concerns, including:

“the disastrous resurgence of heroin in some regions; the use of the ‘Darknet’ for drug trafficking; the appalling loss of life due to overdoses, and the disproportionate impact illicit drugs have on women, among many others challenges.”

The Report found that the proliferation of anonymous online marketplaces is playing a key role in drug trafficking. It pointed out that:

“Monica Barratt, a researcher from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at UNSW Australia… [found that] 8,058 GDS respondents out of 101,313 (8 percent) said they had used the dark web to source drugs. That’s up from around 5,000 in 2015, and 2,000 in 2014”.

Drug Use by Gender

The Report found that men are three times more likely than women to use cannabis, cocaine or amphetamines, while women are more likely to take opioids and tranquilizers for non-medical purposes.
This disparity is believed to be linked to increased opportunities for men to access drugs in their social environment.

The Report further found that the impact of drug use was greater on women because they difficulty accessing treatment facilities for their issues.

Spike in Heroin

Consistent with other studies, the Report found that North America has seen increase in both heroin use, and heroin-related deaths.

The US Drug Enforcement Agency’s National Heroin Threat Assessment Summary reports that the number of heroin users has been rising rapidly — there were 435,000 heroin users in 2014, a three-fold increase on 2007.

During the same period, the number of overdose deaths involving heroin jumped from 3,036 in 2010, to 10,574 in 2014.

Synthetic Drugs

The Report also found an increased use in synthetic drugs, which is again consistent with other recent studies.

Joseph J. Palamar, an Assistant Professor at NYU Langone Medical Center, tested hair samples from people outside clubs and festivals in New York, finding that four out of 10 people who reported only taking ‘ecstacy’ also came up positive for bath salts (a lab-created drug chemically similar to cathinone, a stimulant).

A separate European Report unearthed 101 new street drugs in 2014 alone. Most were synthetic cannabinoids, but there were also a number of variations of synthetic bath salts, known on the street as ‘flakka’.

UN Response

The Report is heavy on data but disappointingly light on solutions.

Rather than making solid recommendations for addressing drug issues and devising a plan for reform, the UN Secretary-General has called for “a global response that is simultaneously effective, compassionate and humane”.

Ineffectiveness of UNGASS

The Report follows the recent UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), which was heavily criticised for failing to condemn the “war on drugs” and neglecting to propose a pathway towards drug reform.

In the lead-up to UNGASS, drug reformists were hopeful the UN would urge member states to decriminalise small drug possession, and make recommendations addressing the collateral damage cause by the drug war. Indeed, the conference was brought forward from 2019 following pleas by the presidents of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico; nations that are heavily affected by prohibitionist policies.

However, the conference saw representatives of member states rambling on about problems, facts and figures with little guidance or direction being provided by UN heads or mediators, and no recommendations for reform.

Drug reformists argue that, until the UN takes a firmer leadership role which recognises current policy failures and recommends pathways to reform, little will change on a global scale.

Experts Agree that the War on Ice is Lost, But Will Governments Shift Focus?

A Western Australian Judge has declared the State has lost its war on drugs, as suppliers are undeterred by heavy penalties and increased enforcement measures.

During a District Court sentencing hearing, Judge Philip McCann called the ‘ice epidemic’ “a national and international disgrace,” blaming the continuing flow of the drug on Chinese drug cartels.

He conceded that drug experts are correct to say it is impossible to stop supply into the State by “criminal gangs in Asia”, who he believes targeted the growing drug market created by the WA mining boom.

Drug Use in Western Australia

The 2013 national drug survey found that 3.8% of Western Australians aged over 13 had used methamphetamine during the previous year, significantly higher than the national average of 2.1%. The percentage using the crystalised version, or ice, rose from 43.9 to 78.2% between 2012 to 2013 – also well-above the rise in other jurisdictions.

The Judge added that WA Health Department data suggests the problem has worsened since the 2013 survey.

“We can no longer do anything to stop the predatory importing of the drug by Chinese criminal gangs and their Australian affiliates,” he said, suggesting that increased penalties and the targeting of offenders has done little to stem the problem.

“The damage now seems to have almost irreparably been done. The opportunities to do something about this were lost some years ago.”

State Response

Last year, the WA government established dedicated methamphetamine taskforces, conducting the biggest drug operation in the State’s history. Police Minister Liza Harvey said “Meth Transport Teams” were aiming to stop the flow of the drug from Asia.

The expensive initiative appears to achieved little, other than wasting taxpayer money and further demonising and alienating low-level users.

Government Initiatives

In last week’s State Budget, WA Treasurer Mike Nahan took the positive step of unveiling a $15 million boost to the Mental Health Commission, designed to target methamphetamine use. But at the same time, he set aside an additional $5.5 million for roadside drug testing.

Late last year, the Federal government committed to a $300 million strategy aimed at implementing recommendations by the National Ice Taskforce. Much of the money will be going to ‘primary health networks’ such as hospitals and medical centres, in order to treat users and assist them to overcome addiction.

And while Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has conceded that “we cannot arrest our way to success,” the Federal Government’s continues invest the lion’s share of resources into punitive measures rather than prevention and diversion.

Prevention is Better than a ‘Cure’

Justice Minister Michael Keenan has acknowledged that police are struggling to control supply, suggesting more should be done to educate and reduce demand. “If we are going to break the drug dealer’s model, we need to smash demand,” he said.

Reducing demand requires adequate funding to services which address the factors leading to addiction in the first place, including those which help improve socio-economic status and mental health. Spending on housing, employment support and mental health services has been shown by initiatives like justice reinvestment to decrease demand, reduce crime and enhance social cohesion and economic productivity.

The UN Office 2013 World Drug Report says that for every dollar spent on prevention, there is a benefit of four to seven dollars to the economy overall. Such investments can reduce healthcare and enforcement costs, while enhancing productivity.

Professor Nick Crofts of The Nossal Institute for Global Health was recently commissioned to report on the problem of methamphetamine use. “We interviewed something like 50 senior police, senior magistrates, senior politicians, senior public servants,” he said. “Every one of them, unanimously, said, ‘You are absolutely right and we totally agree with you, we need to move away from prohibition, we need more social policy, and you will never catch me saying that in public’.”

It is hoped State and Federal governments act upon that “unanimous” view, and move away from the current punitive model.

World’s Most Creative Drug Smugglers

The dangerous task of smuggling illicit drugs across borders is not for the faint-hearted.

But those who dare to take the risk often hinge their bets on elaborate smuggling tactics – hiding drugs inside everyday items, dropping packages off aircraft and even swallowing the drugs themselves in a bid to get them through border security.

In this blog we discuss five of the world’s most creative drug smuggling tactics.

1. The Tomato Tin Mafia

Partners in crime Pasquale Barbaro and Saverio Zirilli bit off more than they could chew when they tried to import a whopping 4.4 tonnes (or 15 million pills) of ecstasy – creatively hidden inside hundreds of tins of Italian tomatoes.

Unfortunately, their plan fell apart when the shipping container housing the tins was left unclaimed after making the voyage from Italy to Australia – raising the suspicions of Australian authorities. An X-ray showed ‘image anomalies,’ and Customs officers were shocked to discover millions of ecstasy pills hidden away in the tins.

Police monitoring the communications of Barbaro and Zirilli and other soon discovered they were becoming increasingly anxious about how they would collect the tins. Both men were subsequently arrested and charged with conspiring to traffic a commercial quantity of MDMA, trafficking a commercial quantity of MDMA and attempting to possess a commercial quantity of cocaine for their roles in one of Australia’s biggest ever drug busts.

Both men pleaded guilty to all charges in the Victorian Supreme Court. Barbaro was sentenced to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 30 years, and Zirilli received 26 years with a non-parole period of 18 years – a sentence confirmed on appeal to the High Court.

2. The Marijuana Cannon

The US-Mexico border is notorious for drug smuggling – with Mexican drug lords happy to put the lives and liberty of smugglers at risk to supply the American market.

The border is famously monitored by US authorities – so it is no surprise that over the years, smugglers have devised elaborate schemes to get their product across the border.

One of the most creative tactics was a ‘marijuana cannon,’ discovered by police in the city of Mexicali in 2013. The plastic cannon was attached to an old ute, and used its engine to generate compressed air – which was used to launch packages of marijuana into the air and across the border into California.

The scheme unravelled when US police reported finding a large number of packages containing up to 13 kilograms of marijuana which had apparently been fired across the border. While it is believed the device belonged to Mexican gangs, no arrests have been made.

3. Woman Smuggles Cocaine in Breasts

Earlier this week, a 24-year-old Colombian woman was arrested in Germany after being caught with 1 kilogram of cocaine hidden inside her breasts.

An examination of the woman after she arrived in the country on the 24th of February revealed she had fresh operation scars under her breasts. The woman admitted to smuggling drugs and went to hospital, where doctors removed two 500 gram, plastic-covered packages of cocaine from her breasts.

It is believed the packages had a street value of 200,000 euros and were intended for sale in Spain. The woman, who remains unnamed, will be charged with drug trafficking – which some feel may be a blessing in disguise given that she could have lost her life had the packages ruptured.

It is not the first time a woman has attempted to conceal drugs in her breasts – in 2015, a Honduran woman was arrested at a Colombian airport after being caught with 1.5 kg of liquid cocaine in her breasts.

4. Mexican Drug Tunnels

Extracting tonnes of soil to create an elaborate tunnel across the US-Mexico border might seem like a lot of effort to smuggle drugs – but it’s a strategy that is commonly employed by Mexican drug cartels.

In fact, TIME Magazine reports that since 2001, over 100 drug tunnels have been unearthed by US authorities – some with entrances leading directly into houses.
Many of the tunnels are even fitted out with sophisticated equipment, including complex lighting, electrical and water systems, and even carts to transport the drugs efficiently.

5. Thai Meth Sculptures

Sometimes, the best plans are the simplest – but not always, as an Iranian man who tried to smuggle $1.6 million worth of crystal methamphetamine into Thailand disguised as artwork discovered.

28-year-old Safi Zadeh Hossein was arrested at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in 2011 after arriving from Syria. Authorities became suspicious of two sculptures being carried by the man – one shaped like a yellow rose and the other resembling a cameo. Upon examination, the sculptures were found to be made entirely out of crystal methamphetamine.

Hossein’s fate remains unclear – but if the plight of the Bali Nine is anything to go by, it is likely that he has an ordeal ahead.

Drug Importation Continues to Boom

What’s the highest paying job in Sydney?

If you’re thinking along the lines of a banker, lawyer or doctor, you’d be off the mark. According to a recent report by the NSW Crime Commission, drug importers are raking in huge profits – despite a steep decline in wholesale prices.

The Commission says that the price of a kilogram of cocaine has fallen from $280,000 three years ago to between $180,000 to $200,000 today. The price of ‘ice’ has more than halved during the same period, from $220,000 to $95,000.

The fall has been attributed to increases in supply, indicating that drug smugglers are getting better at importing larger quantities of drugs – which equals larger profits.

Meanwhile, the street prices for these drugs have remained unchanged, meaning that organised crime groups are benefiting from greater profits.

Government efforts to stop drug importation have proven to be futile. Despite government agencies seizing 7.3 tonnes of illegal drugs and chemicals in 2014/15, (with one seizure comprising 2.8 tonnes of ice and MDMA worth $1.5 billion), the most recent Report notes that:

‘it was one of Australia’s largest ever drug seizures but, despite this seizure, the price of both ice and MDMA has continued to drop, suggesting a continuing plentiful supply.’

The Report also states that:

‘the illicit drug trade in Australia from drug importation through to street level distribution continues to be the chief source of income for organised crime in Australia.’

Who Imports Drugs and How?

The Report examines the characteristics of those who import drugs – finding that they originate from many different countries, including Mexico, Vietnam, Canada and the United States. It found that the vast majority of drugs, excluding locally grown cannabis, originated from outside Australia – but once the drugs arrived in Australia, they were generally handled by organised crime groups, such as motorcycle groups and ethnic gangs, including those of Vietnamese, Armenian, Russian and Lebanese origin.

The Report suggests that drug smuggling operations are becoming more sophisticated – that importers are getting better at concealing drugs that are shipped or flown over.

The Report also suggests that Sydney’s booming property market is providing a ‘demand for funds’ into Australia, facilitating money laundering operations by providing a reasonable excuse for smugglers to transfer large sums of money into the country.

Penalties for Drug Importation

Drug importation is a Federal offence under the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995. The maximum penalty depends on the amount of drugs in question, as well as the type of drug imported:

  • Importing less than a marketable quantity (i.e. less than100 grams ecstasy, 250 grams amphetamines, heroin and cocaine, or 25kg cannabis) carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and/or $220,000;
  • Importing more than a marketable quantity but less than a commercial quantity attracts a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment and/or $550,000 fine;
  • Importing a commercial quantity (i.e. 500g+ ecstasy, 750g+ amphetamines, 1.5kg+ heroin, 2 kilograms+ cocaine, 125 kilograms+ cannabis) comes with a maximum of life imprisonment and/or fine of $825,000;
  • Importing any quantity of drugs (i.e. where the prosecution is unable to prove a particular quantity, or where a person imports a smaller quantity of drugs) has a maximum of 10 years imprisonment and/or $220,000 fine.

What Can Be Done?

The Report confirms that costly government surveillance operations and drug seizures do little to stop the flow of drugs into Australia. Those who dare to import drugs despite the heavy penalties do not stay in Australia for long – generally leaving once the job is complete.

The Report also found that:

‘There is further evidence that the seizures did not deter large syndicates, who regarded the loss of the drugs as merely a business overhead, and there was strong intelligence to suggest that syndicates will simply embark upon new variations of methods for importation to continue their business in order to recoup losses following the seizures.’

Many argue that the best solution to the question of drugs is the decriminalisation and regulation of their use, and ensuring that users are given access to treatment rather than arrested and sent through the criminal justice system.

But sadly, our government seems intent on wasting millions of taxpayer dollars in its futile war against drugs, and those who choose to use them.

Guzman’s Recapture Won’t Win the ‘War on Drugs’

If you’ve been reading the news lately, you may have heard about the recapture of notorious drug lord Joaquín Guzmán, better known as ‘El Chapo,’ or ‘The Shorty.’ Guzmán’s brazen escape from a high-security Mexican prison in 2014 was detailed in one of our earlier blogs.

He was recaptured earlier this week after nearly 6 months on the run, with U.S. and Mexican authorities hailing the arrest as a massive win in the war against drugs.

Who is Guzman?

As leader of the notorious Sinaloa Cartel, Guzmán regularly ranks as one of the world’s most powerful drug traffickers – with the Drug Enforcement Adminstration (DEA) naming him ‘the godfather of the drug world’ and claiming he is even more influential than Pablo Escobar.

The Sinaloa Cartel is renowned for smuggling huge quantities of methamphetamine, marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin into the United States, and Guzmán himself is believed to have smuggled more drugs into the U.S than anyone else in history.

If those claims are true, some might think that Guzmán’s arrest will help win the fight against drugs – but in reality, it will have little or no impact.

Here’s are just a few reasons why:

1. Guzmán Can Run His Empire Behind Bars

Prison is supposed to deter people from committing crimes – but not in Guzmán’s case. He spent over seven years in prison prior to his first escape in 2001 – during which his empire flourished.

Guzmán has the ability to control his operations from behind bars, aided by his brother – and he uses the corrupt Mexican prison system to his advantage, even bribing guards to help orchestrate his first escape.

This is simply a case where prison will act as no deterrence either for other drug lords (because they have no regard for the law anyhow) or the powerful Guzmán himself.

2. The Laws of Supply and Demand

From an economic perspective, arresting one of the big drug kingpins will do little to stop the drug trade.

Even if Guzmán’s arrest leads to a decrease in supply, drug users will be willing to pay a premium to source their drugs elsewhere – which, in turn, will fund further drug activity.

For users – especially those who use highly addictive substances such as cocaine, ice or heroin – drugs are a lifeblood for survival, just like food and water. Simply taking away one drug source and jacking up prices won’t impact on whether they will be purchased.

This is one of the reasons why the war on drugs is so ineffective compared to harm minimisation strategies. Drug users will continue to take drugs regardless of the risk or price, so our best bet is reducing the harm associated with drug use through better regulation and the provision of adequate health services.

3. There Are Plenty of Other Cartels Out There

While the Sinaloa Cartel is widely regarded as the biggest, the fact remains that there are plenty of other powerful drug cartels which are more than capable of supplying drugs to the United States.

The Los Zetas, Gulf, Tijuana, Knights Templar and Juárez cartels each control major trafficking routes between the United States and Mexico – and there are dozens of other major cartels scattered throughout South and Central America. Even if the Sinaloa Cartel were disbanded, another would simply step into its place.

Indeed, history has many examples of this occurring. For instance, when the once-powerful Tijuana cartel was fragmented during early 21st century, the Sinaloa cartel simply stepped in to fill the gaps. The same fate will likely befall the Sinaloa cartel if it is affected by Guzmán’s recapture: another rival cartel will simply seize the opportunity to gain new territory.

For those and other reasons, the US Department of Homeland Security admitted in 2001 that ‘there is no perceptible pattern that correlates either a decrease or increase in drug seizures due to the removal of key [drug cartel] personnel.’

Top 5 Dumbest Drug Offenders

Smuggling and dealing drugs is a risky business – so naturally you would assume that those who do it would take extra precautions to prevent them from getting caught, right?

Wrong!

Here we share the stories of five of the dumbest drug offenders.

1. Water Leak Leads to Drug Bust

Police had already received reports of suspicious people entering and leaving unemployed bodybuilder Bektash Keshavarzi’s Ryde apartment – but his operation unravelled spectacularly when a downstairs neighbour reported a water leak emanating from his unit.

Police obtained a warrant to search the unit; only to discover that it was completely empty – except for several safes, heightening police suspicions and triggering a surveillance operation. The apartment was leased to Mr Keshavarzi under a false name – and police soon discovered that Keshavarzi was renting a number of other apartments on Sydney’s north shore, well beyond his means.

Upon searching a property in Gladesville, police found a large amount of drugs including 88 kilograms of methamphetamine (‘ice’) and $330,090 in cash, as well as quantities of pseudoephedrine – a precursor used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. A raid on his unit at Mowbray Road, Artarmon also uncovered a number of false identity documents and over $12,000 in cash.

It is one of the biggest drug busts in Sydney in recent times.

Keshavarzi was charged with manufacturing a large commercial quantity of methylamphetamine, supplying a large commercial quantity of MDMA, and numerous fraud offences.

He appeared before Sydney’s Central Local Court last week, where he was granted strict conditional bail subject to $1 million security.

The DPP has reportedly made a ‘detention application’ to the Supreme Court in an attempt to keep him behind bars.

2. Drug Mule Narrowly Escapes Death

48-year-old British man Colmin Smith may not be the sharpest tool in the shed – but he’s a very lucky man.

Smith made the dangerous decision ingest 239 grams of cocaine packed inside 61 pellets in an attempt to smuggle the drugs from Antigua to London.

But shortly after takeoff, one of the pellets burst inside his stomach. He was able to alert a flight attendant to his sticky situation before losing consciousness.

The plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Bermuda, and Mr Smith was rushed to hospital to have the packets removed. Thankfully, he survived the surgery and was able to make it to Court, where he was convicted of just one charge of possession and fined £471.

According to police, he could only be charged with possession because there was no evidence to suggest he intended to sell or smuggle the drugs to Bermuda.

3. ‘Breaking Bad’ Drug Manufacturer Caught

A Victorian woman who operated a ‘Breaking Bad’ style laboratory – out of a hotel room – was caught after police raided her room, finding a variety of lab equipment and chemicals.

25-year-old Melinda Hansen was charged with drug trafficking and possessing drug manufacturing equipment and documents.

Police reportedly found a wealth of evidence against the woman – including selfies which depicted her with large amounts of drugs and cash.

Numerous text messages exchanged between Ms Hansen and other individuals allegedly supporting allegations that she was a dealer.

4. Drug Dealer Posts Photo of Himself Supplying Drugs to Police

Showing off your stash is not the smartest way to run a drug operation – as one Florida man learned the hard way.

21-year-old male stripper Taylor Harrison made the fateful decision of snapping selfies of him sitting in his car topless, with a pile of cannabis and cash on his lap.

Unbeknownst to him, police were parked right next to him, witnessing the entire photoshoot.

To make matters worse, Harrison then attempted to sell drugs to the police officer, and even managed to snap a photo of the exchange taking place – which he shared on Facebook.

Police arrested and charged him with drug supply, and shared his mugshot on their Facebook page, noting: ‘Since Taylor was kind enough to share photos of us on his Facebook page, we thought we would share these photos of Taylor on our page.’

5. Man Lists ‘Drug Dealer’ as Occupation

25-year-old Richard Phillips’ day started on a bad note after he cut off a police car in traffic.

But things soon went from bad to worse after police followed and observed him dealing drugs.

He was arrested and taken back to the police station, where he was asked to fill out his arrest forms. But in an inexplicable act of stupidity, he listed ‘drug dealer’ as his occupation on the forms.

It later transpired that the car he was driving was stolen.

He was charged with a number of offences, including stealing a vehicle and drug supply.

New Evidence that War on Drugs is Failing

For years, we have endured successive political leaders telling us that the only way to tackle drug use is to outlaw drugs altogether, and to impose harsh penalties on those who dare to break the law.

As a result, Australia’s drug laws have remained largely unchanged for decades, despite research showing that prohibition and punishment are not the best approach.

The latest statistics published by the Victorian Crime Statistics Agency (VCSA) provide further evidence that the war on drugs simply is not working; suggesting that the possession and use of drugs has not declines over the last decade – despite police and other agencies being equipped with greater resources.

Statistics Turn the Spotlight on Drug Crime

The VSCA utilised various data, including police records, between 2005 and 2015 to track the rates of drug use and possession in metropolitan, regional and rural Victoria, and to ascertain how the characteristics of offenders and crime rates differed across various geographical regions.

The statistics suggest that drug possession offences across the state increased from a rate of around 150 incidents per 100,000 people, to around 275 per 100,000 over that period of time. Drug possession was more prolific in regional areas, where it increased from around 175 incidents per 100,000, to over 350.

The study found that the characteristics of drug users has also changed over time; for instance, the percentage of female offenders has increased from 18% in 2011 to over 22% in 2015. Offenders located within metropolitan regions were more likely to be aged between 20 and 29 at the time of their first offence, while those in country areas were more likely to be aged over 40.

Why is the War on Drugs Failing?

As outlined in several previous blogs, the increase in police resources has failed to reduce the use of illicit drugs in Australian communities, particularly rural areas and at targeted events like music festivals. It appears that users remain undeterred by the threat of police intervention and heavy penalties, even when they know that police and sniffer dogs will be present.

Given the trend, it seems futile for Australian taxpayers to plough hundreds of millions of dollars every year into detecting and prosecuting minor drug offences; which have clogged up our courts and lined the pockets of criminal defence lawyers, without reducing the rates of drug use.

As previously discussed, treating drug use as a health problem – rather than as a crime – has been highly successful in encouraging users to get help in several overseas countries, including Portugal and Norway, and in reducing the number of deaths from drug overdoses, lowering rates of drug-associated crime and helping habitual users to overcome their addictions.

In 2014, a working group presented a number of submissions to this effect to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, noting that drug abuse was a disease and should therefore be addressed by public health bodies rather than the criminal justice system.

Dr. Nora Volkow, who headed the group, observed that:

‘No one would imagine that enforcing tough legal sanctions on people with a chronic condition such as heart disease could help address that illness or its causes, or help prevent it in others. Criminal justice is clearly not the way forward in dealing with substance use disorders either; putting people with addictions in prison and perpetuating various legal barriers to seeking or providing substance abuse treatment are only hindrances.’

The United Nations is due to hold a special session on international drug issues next year. It hopes that member states will heed the advice provided by Dr. Volkow’s group amongst others, and take the first steps towards reclassifying drug use as a health issue, rather than criminally prosecuting users and alienating them from the community.

Defendant Brings Drugs to Court

One of the most difficult decisions for a criminal defence lawyer to make is whether to put your client on the witness stand during a jury trial.

Your client needs to be credible, to present well and be able to withstand lengthy cross-examination without losing their temper or coming across as rude or arrogant. They need to listen to the questions and answer only those questions – without giving long and convoluted answers which provide the prosecutor with fuel for further questioning. They need to tell the prosecutor if they don’t understand a question or don’t recall an event, or part of an event – without guessing or making-up their testimony.

But the issue of credibility took on a whole new meaning in a recent UK case, where a man standing trial for drug importation and trafficking brought a large quantity of cocaine with him to the stand.

24-year-old Waqas Khan was on trial for conspiracy to supply heroin and cocaine. Although he was ultimately acquitted of those charges, he was caught with a large bag of cocaine in his possession during the court proceedings after acting intoxicated.

He pleaded guilty to drug possession and was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment.

Detective Inspector Paul Baron made his feelings about the conduct abundantly clear:

“To turn up in the dock with class A drugs on him shows a complete and utter disregard to the law. Khan’s actions were beyond belief and I’m pleased that he will face a custodial sentence.”

But this is certainly not the only case where people have turned up to court intoxicated:

Drunk but not always disorderly

In 1968, a criminal defence lawyer in Washington DC, Mr Brownlow, had a ‘lunch cocktail’ before heading to court – where he delivered a long and rambling opening statement.

The judge grew suspicious when it became evidence out that Mr Brownlow had appeared in the wrong courtroom for the wrong trial!

The following exchange then took place:

JUDGE: Have you been drinking?

BROWNLOW: I had a cocktail at lunch

JUDGE: This morning?

BROWNLOW: Yes

JUDGE: In my opinion, Mr. Brownlow, you are under the influence of alcohol in my court, at this moment.

BROWNLOW: Do you think so, Your Honour?

JUDGE: Indeed I do.

BROWNLOW: I don’t.

Mr Brownlow was charged with ‘contempt of court’ for his behaviour.

And earlier this year, a woman by the name of Ms Smith attended Brisbane District Court for allegedly breaching a suspended prison sentence. When she appeared to be intoxicated, the judge ordered a medical test to determine whether she was of sound mind.

The test revealed that Ms Smith was drunk, which caused the judge to revoke her bail and remand her in custody to face court later that week.

Contempt of Court in NSW

Contempt of court is defined as an act that interferes with, or undermines, the authority of the court, or the dignity of the courts, or those that participate in court.

Contempt can be either criminal or civil, and the two categories can sometimes overlap.

Examples of criminal contempt of court were outlined by Justice McHugh in the case of Witham v Holloway (1995) 183 CLR 525, who found that they include:

  • Defiance of the court or its procedures,
  • Publishing matters that scandalise the court,
  • Any act that can interfere with a fair trial,
  • Threatening parties or witnesses in a trial, and
  • Misconduct within the court.

It was held that civil contempt of court could also include failing to comply with certain types of court orders and judgements

Being Rude or Discourteous

Rudeness and discourtesy is not usually considered to be enough to consitute contempt of court.

In the Victoria case of Ferguson v Walkley (2008) 180 A Crim R 294, Justice Harper found that:

“It is no offence simply to be angry with the authorities (including, of course, judicial authority). Some people can articulate their anger in measured language that clearly explains their reasons for feeling as they do. Others, especially when their anger is combined with high emotional stress, or alcohol, or other debilitating factors, cannot.”

That said, it is never in a person’s interest to lose their cool inside the courtroom – whether they are a defendant, complainant, lawyer or prosecutor.

Rather, keeping calm in a stressful situation can be seen as the mark of a person of good character – which can be particularly helpful to those charged with offences of violence or public disorder.

Equally, being able to deal with an obnoxious or rude magistrate, judge or witness without becoming flustered or losing control can ultimately win a lawyer the respect of the court – which can, in turn, be highly beneficial to the client.

However, dealing with an intoxicated client –or one who brings drugs to court – is another kettle of fish.

Australia’s Top Five Drug Busts

Did you know that the largest drug bust in Australia was also the biggest in the world?

Or that the HMAS Newcastle was responsible for seizing over $1 billion of drugs from the high seas this year?

From hiding drugs in tomato cans to smuggling them inside road rollers, these cunning drug traffickers went to extreme lengths in an attempt to reap a princely profit.

Here we outline five of Australia’s biggest ever drug busts.

85.5 Kilos of Cocaine and 192.2 kilos of Methylamphetamine – Street Value $260 million

Canadian man Mark Clermont hatched a plan to get rich quick – but it all ended in disaster when he was charged with importing 85.5 kilograms of pure cocaine and 192.9 kilograms of pure methylamphetamine, with a combined street value of $260 million.

Clermont was recruited to expand the operations of an international drug syndicate into Australia; arriving here in 2010. The elaborate scheme had him working for a seemingly legitimate business that imported tractors, forklifts and other equipment. After two years on the job, the drug syndicate sought to import hundreds of kilograms of drugs inside the barrel of a road roller, in an effort to ‘defeat x-ray examination of the roller by Australian Customs.’

But police became suspicious and dismantled the roller, finding drugs stashed inside. Clermont denied any knowledge or involvement in the scheme, but he was ultimately found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. His associate, Mathieu Horobjowsky, was given a minimum of 13 years behind bars.

724 kilograms of Narcotics – Street Value $597 million

The Navy is tasked with protecting Australia’s border security, and the HMAS Newcastle plays a special role in stopping illegal substances from entering our shores.

This year, the HMAS Newcastle was used to seize 724 kilograms of narcotics from another vessel, with an estimated street value of $597 million. It also seized another 581 kilograms of drugs worth around $520 million earlier in the year.

584kg of Ice – Street Value $438 million

We are constantly being told that an ice epidemic has recently swept through the country, but back in 2013 police made a huge bust in Sydney, preventing 584 kilograms of ice with an estimated street value of $438 million from hitting the streets.

The bust left three men facing lengthy prison sentences after police acted on a call to their Asian Crime Squad.

The resulting four-month investigation culminated in police linking several shipping containers to organised crime, and seizing 38 plastic bags containing a crystalline substance which was later identified as being methylamphetamine.

2.8 Tonnes of MDMA and Methamphetamine – Street Value $1.5 billion

A massive bust involving 2.8 tonnes of MDMA and methylamphetamine worth a record $1.5 billion landed six men before the courts in 2014.

A joint operation involving the AFP, NSW Police and Australian Customs uncovered the consignment inside a German cargo ship container, where they were reportedly concealed amongst furniture.

It is believed that the importation was a combined effort on behalf of various organised crime groups – with international investigations ongoing.

4.4 Tonnes of Ecstasy – Street Value $122 million

Drug busts are becoming more commonplace as police are invested with greater resources as part of the ongoing ‘drug war’.

But the award for the biggest – and most creative – trafficking activity uncovered to date goes to Carmelo Falanga, Jan Visser, Saverio Zirilli and Pasquale Barbaro.

The men were busted in 2007 for attempting to import 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy, with a street value of $122 million, inside 3,000 cans of tinned tomatoes hidden in a shipping container – making it not only the biggest drug bust in Australia, but also the world.

The haul equated to 15 million ecstasy pills. Barbaro, who is linked to the Calabrian Mafia, was handed down a prison sentence of at least 30 years, while Zirilli is expected to spend at least 18 years behind bars. Falanga and Visser received sentences of 16.5 and 8 years respectively.