Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Frenchman Costa Le Coubet avoids conviction over Queenstown airport ciggies theft

A French cleaner stole cigarettes from a Customs drop-bin at Queenstown Airport.
A French cleaner stole cigarettes from a Customs drop-bin at Queenstown Airport.

A Frenchman who stole forfeited cigarettes from a Customs drop-bin while working at an airport as a cleaner has escaped without a conviction.

Costa Le Coubet, 22, had been employed at Queenstown International Airport with access to the Customs-controlled side of the terminal.

The Frenchman, in New Zealand on a working holiday visa, was charged with four counts of theft in June after being seen on security footage taking discarded cigarettes a tamper-proof bin.

The cigarettes had been forfeited to the Crown by passengers who had exceeded the 50 cigarette limit for those entering New Zealand and did not want to pay tax on excess amounts.

When caught leaving for a three-week Thailand holiday, Le Coubet said he thought it was a victimless crime and that the cigarettes would have been destroyed.

In total, he took 10 packets, worth approximately $200.

Christchurch District Court Judge Gary MacAskill today discharged him without conviction.

Defence counsel Claire Hyslop had argued that a conviction would have travel consequences for Le Coubet who wanted to study and work in the tourism industry.

She said he had done more than 40 hours of voluntary work with the Salvation Army in a gesture of his remorse.

He'd already paid the penalties of having his visa taken from him, and with it his ability to gain paid employment for the past few months. He had also lost his holiday to Thailand with his $1200 non-refundable flights.

Despite the thefts, Le Coubet had "nothing but pleasant experiences" with the New Zealand public during his stay, Hyslop said.

Diversion had been twice declined by police - decisions queried by Judge MacAskill.

Police prosecutor Sergeant Paul Scott said Le Coubet had taken advantage of his access as a cleaner to steal.

In granting a discharge without conviction, Judge MacAskill noted that the cigarettes would have been disposed of and that Le Coubet was otherwise of good character.

The judge also noted that Le Coubet had lost his holiday and flights, as well his work visa and had been relying on his savings and the generosity of others for the rest of his trip.

Judge MacAskill thought police could have used their discretion in granting diversion, saying that it wasn't the case that the Frenchman was a security risk.

He granted the discharge without conviction, satisfied that the inconvenience of a conviction on his future career in the travel industry would have been out of proportion to the crime.

Le Coubet leaves New Zealand later this month.

- NZ Herald

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