'Clueless' Vietnamese driver busted with $1.6M in marijuana
AN IPSWICH court has heard how a man drove his empty van to a McDonald's restaurant for a meeting that would result in him taking off with more than $1million worth of drugs.
But the ill-fated marijuana exchange came undone when the man was pulled over for a random breath test on the way home, and police caught a whiff of the product.
The driver was apparently oblivious to the illicit contents of cardboard boxes packed floor to ceiling inside the Hyundai iLoad van.
In total, the rental van held nearly 250kg of marijuana, with the Crown case against the driver listing its street value at $1.6 million.
The driver, Cuong Van Phan, 28, from Redbank Plains, appeared in the dock of Ipswich District Court this week, where he pleaded guilty to having possession of more than 500g of the Schedule 2 dangerous drug marijuana (quantity exceeding Schedule 3) at Minden on March 11.
A Vietnamese citizen, Phan was living illegally in Australia. Phan did not speak English and an interpreter was used in the court.
Legal officer for the Crown prosecution case Karen Dodds said Phan was intercepted at 7.30pm driving the hire van on the Warrego Highway at Minden.
It was a routine traffic stop as part of a roadside RBT.
"Police smelled the marijuana from outside. There were 15 large moving boxes stacked to the roof. With 28 cryovac bags inside the sealed boxes," Ms Dodds said.
"It (marijuana) weighed 244.42kg.
"He says he hired the van in Ipswich and drove to McDonald's at Gatton.
"The van was empty and it was given to another person and he picked it up.
"He (Phan) planned to return it to Inala. He was to be given $2000 to deliver the cartons to a person named Ding.
"While he did not have direct knowledge (of the drug inside) he was in possession."
Ms Dodds said Phan was arrested and spent nearly six-and-a-half months (196 days) in custody.
She said an aggravating feature was the quantity of the drug with an estimated street value at $1.6million.
Phan had "failed to exercise greater diligence" to ensure he did not have dangerous drugs and was residing unlawfully in Australia at the time of the offence, the court heard.
Ms Dodds said because Phan faced deporation it would be wrong of the court to impose a supervised probation order as penalty.
Instead, because of the peculiar circumstances, the Crown sought a jail term to be suspended after serving six-and-a-half months.
Defence barrister Scott Lynch said Phan had not reasonably suspected the drug was inside the boxes, with a failure to exercise greater diligence.
Mr Lynch argued the nature of the drug and the quantity of the drug were not a factor in the penalty and the street value of $1.6 million not a consideration in the Crown submission.
Judge Alexander Horneman-Wren said it was a serious matter with police able to smell the cannabis before even conducting a proper search of the van.
He said the 244kg of marijuana was inside 28 separate Cryovac bags ranging in weight from just under 5kg-9kg. The drugs were being driven to Inala where Phan was to be paid $2000 on delivery of the boxes.
He said Phan was not to be sentenced on the basis he had any commercial knowledge.
"It is accepted by the Crown you did not have any direct knowledge the boxes held drugs," Judge Horneman-Wren said.
"You were residing unlawfully in Australia. The reality is you will be deported as a consequence of having come to the attention of migration officials."
Judge Horneman-Wren said the movement of drugs in this case was a serious matter and people who may become unwittingly engaged even though ignorant of the precise nature must be made aware that it will be treated seriously by the courts.
Phan was sentenced to two years' jail to be suspended for three years after he serves 196 days.
Phan now faces going into the custody of Immigration and being deported.