Guilty pleas end synthetics trial

Guilty pleas on day eight have brought an early end to a trial of three people involved in a $4 million synthetic cannabis dealing ring.

The Christchurch District Court trial before Judge Stephen O’Driscoll had been meant to last six weeks but it was making slow progress because of the constant interpretation needed for the Mandarin Chinese speakers.

Three of the four who were on trial were remanded for sentencing after deals were done on Thursday – some charges were combined, no evidence was offered on others, and guilty pleas were put in on the remaining charges.

The jury was brought back to court and told of the developments on Friday morning and then discharged. The trial was over, on its ninth day, with one remaining defendant, Heng Fu, 35, still facing a new trial, on a charge of selling or supplying non-approved psycho-active substances. He was remanded to July 5.

The Crown alleged when the trial began that “vast quantities” had been sold by the dealing ring.

When their 13-month investigation ended, and the police searched a van, a house in Avonhead, and a Blenheim Road storage unit, they found synthetic cannabis with a street value of up to $4 million.

“The Crown says we are dealing with a major distribution network for synthetic cannabis into the South Island,” said Crown prosecutor Karyn South.

A woman who owned a dairy at Sockburn, Fei He, 48, was described as the “mastermind” by Miss South. She said the Crown did not accept He’s claim that the substances she was found with were legal “herbal” remedies. The Crown said they were analysed and found to be psycho-active substances.

After seven days of opening addresses and evidence – including lengthy delays for translations – one of the accused, Sui Jun Zhou, a 34-year-old real estate agent, indicated he wanted to plead guilty.

On the first day of the trial, Zhou had pleaded guilty to charges of unlawful possession of a restricted weapon – a stun torch – as well as unlawful possession of a shotgun and ammunition.

On Thursday, the Crown dropped four money laundering charges and he pleaded guilty to a charge of selling or supplying non-approved psycho-active substances from October 2014 to May 2016. It was a representative charge indicating repeated offences.

Then Fei He pleaded guilty to two representative charges of selling or supplying the synthetic cannabis, which could only be sold under licence in 2013 and was then made illegal in 2014. He’s dairy had earlier sold it legally.

But two years after it was made illegal, the police and Crown said the group was found with 173kg of it, which had a street value of between $3 million and $4 million.

Then Xiwen Miao, a 30-year-old chef, pleaded guilty to two charges of selling or supplying the drug, and the money laundering charges were dropped.

Five people were arrested in May 2016, when the investigation ended.

Tong Liu pleaded guilty at the start of the trial, to charges of supplying a non-approved psychoactive substance, and recklessly sending $9900 back to China through an unlicensed money remitter, being reckless as to whether it was the proceeds of crime. That is a money laundering charge.

He was an employee of Fei He in the dairy and had sold the substance to customers over the counter. He was sentenced straight away so that he could make his own way back to China immediately. Judge O’Driscoll fined him a total of $10,000, saying he believed the fines should reflect the amount remitted back to China.

Details of Liu’s guilty pleas and sentencing were suppressed until the end of the trial.

Those who pleaded guilty this week were remanded on bail to July 5, for sentencing dates to be set. Judge O’Driscoll asked for pre-sentence reports to be prepared, with assessments of their suitability for home detention. In two cases, he also asked for cultural reports under the Sentencing Act, which will examine their background and beliefs.