‘Unwitting’ drug couriers dealt with by court

A couple say they were unwitting drug couriers when they flew into Christchurch with 5kg of Ecstasy worth $2 million in a suitcase on April 6 last year.

Now the Russian man is in custody to begin a lengthy prison term next week, but the Ukrainian woman has been freed to return to her family in Israel.

She says the last 10 months since her arrest on drug charges have been a “nightmare”.

Ganna Manchenko, 32, walked free at the Christchurch District Court today when the Crown agreed to drop charges of importing the class B drug, and possession of the drug for supply.

Judge Tom Gilbert explained to her that the Crown was no longer pursuing charges against her, and the charges were dismissed and she was free to go.

“She is extremely relieved this nightmare is over,” said her counsel Steve Hembrow, outside the courtroom. “She is simply looking forward to getting back to Israel and being able to see her family.”

“She has always maintained that she knew nothing about the drugs that were concealed in the suitcase of her then partner,” he said.

Manchenko has a degree in food technology from a university in the Ukraine, but has retrained as a chef and does that work in Israel.

Her then partner, Vadim Shkolnitski, a Russian national, aged 36 and employed as a truck driver, pleaded guilty today – shortly before a trial had been scheduled – to a charge of importing the Ecstasy, and the Crown dropped the possession-for-supply charge.

Outside the court, lawyer Gregor Morison said Shkolnitski was also not aware of the drugs in the suitcase. “But he accepts he was reckless and should have picked up the signals,” Mr Morison said. “Once he came to understand the law about importation – that if you are reckless you are also guilty – that is the basis on which he has pleaded guilty.”

He was remanded in custody for sentencing on February 28, along with the third person arrested – Vladimir Turovsky, a 33-year-old Russian dive shop owner.

Turovsky pleaded guilty on February 9 to a charge of importing 5kg of the drug hidden in a samsonite suitcase. At the time of the arrests, the drugs were said to have a street value of about $2 million.

The drug, referred to in court as MDMA, was found in powdered form.

A Russian interpreter was needed in court when the other two appeared today.

The two men, Turovsky and Shkolnitski, are being sentenced rapidly next week even if pre-sentence reports cannot be prepared in time. They face jail time, since home detention reports have already been ruled out.

The maximum jail term for importing Ecstasy is 14 years.

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