Couriers jailed after airport ecstasy bust

Russian and Ukrainian men who imported ecstasy worth $2 million through Christchurch Airport have been jailed for five years nine months, with speculation remaining about the drug’s final destination.

The couriers’ sentencing session in the Christchurch District Court heard that New Zealand might not have been the target for 5kg of powdered drugs found in a suitcase.

Defence counsel Craig Ruane, for one of the men, said: “There is no evidence of what was to happen to (the drugs). Maybe New Zealand is seen as a soft entry point and it may have been picked up and moved somewhere else, but that is speculation.”

Gregor Morison, counsel for the other man, said: “There us no evidence he received any remuneration for the role he played, nor where the drugs were destined for, or how they were to be distributed.”

Vladimir Turovsky, a 33-year-old dive shop owner, and Vadim Shkolnitski, 36, a truck driver, had admitted charges of importing the powdered MDMA in a samsonite suitcase in April 2017. Turovsky was born in Ukraine and Shkolnitski in Russia, but both have been living in Israel.

When Shkolnitski pleaded guilty to the charge of importing last week, the Crown dropped that charge against his ex-partner, Ganna Manchenko, a 31-year-old Ukrainian woman employed as a cook. She was put on a flight the next day, to return to her family in Israel.

Shkolnitski and Manchenko had said they were unaware of the drugs in the luggage, but Shkolnitski’s lawyer, Mr Morison, said after the guilty plea was entered that his client accepted he was reckless and “should have picked up the signals”.

Mr Ruane said there was no evidence that Turovsky was anything more than a courier. He had begun living in Israel as a boy, and ran a successful dive business.

Mr Morison said Shkolnitski had come to New Zealand “effectively as a honeymooner” but that had turned into a nightmare with his arrest. “It has cost him everything, including his relationship,” he said.

Judge Raoul Neave said the men had travelled to New Zealand from Europe through Singapore, but the exact circumstances of how they came to have the drugs in their joint possession were “a little unclear”. It was found in the luggage which was the joint property of Shkolnitski and his partner. It was valued at between $1.85m and $2.1m.

“There is no evidence that they were responsible for the original supply of the drugs or were to have any role in the distribution or on-shipment once they got to New Zealand. We don’t know what financial rewards, if any, they were to receive.

“On any view, of it, they have been utterly naïve and unbelievably stupid,” said the judge. They had imported a “vast” quantity of a dangerous drug. It had the potential to provide a significant financial return for someone.

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