A Chinese national who imported 25.5 kilograms of ephedrine into Tauranga, including 12kgs found strapped to his body, has been jailed for more than four years.
Jianlai Chen, 34, who appeared in the Tauranga District Court yesterday, earlier pleaded guilty to eight drug importation and supply charges.
Chen admitted three charges of importing ephedrine, four of possessing ephedrine for supply, and a further charge of supplying 12.25kg to a co-offender.
Some of the charges stem from what Customs officers found onboard the logging vessel Bunun Justice, which arrived at the Port of Tauranga on June 28 last year.
Chen, who had no English skills, was assisted in court by an interpreter.
Lawyer Craig Horsley submitted that significant discounts should be given to his client because of his lack of English skills and that he also had no family support in New Zealand.
Horsley said these factors meant Chen's time in a New Zealand prison would be "more onerous" than other prisoners and that should be taken into account.
Crown prosecutor Oliver Salt said the Crown accepted discounts for these factors should be allowed along with a discount for guilty pleas, but the offending involved significant quantities of ephedrine for supply which needed a deterrent message.
Judge Paul Mabey QC told Chen, through his Chinese interpreter, the offending was serious and required a sentence start point of 8 years' imprisonment.
Judge Mabey read a summary of facts to the court, detailing that in 2019 Chen signed on as a crew member on the vessel Bunun Justice which left China on June 7 that year and arrived at the Port on June 28.
Chen, who was granted a visa exemption while in port, left the ship the next day with 12 packages of ephedrine totalling 12.255kg strapped to his body.
Welcome Bay power cut: Reports of power pole on fire
Diesel in the Tauranga Bridge Marina being investigated
'Extremely disturbing': Billboard vandalism becomes personal for MP
He visited the Mount Maunganui area where he met his shore contact and handed over the packages before returning to the ship.
Subsequently on July 1, 2019, Customs officers went to the Port of Tauranga to speak to Chen, who was nervous and appeared to have a large bulge underneath his clothing, the court heard.
Chen ran back to the vessel pursued by the officers and he was found hiding in a toilet cubicle and was also found with four packages of ephedrine.
Another eight packages totalling 12.24kg of the drug were strapped to his torso, and Customs officer also found 1.022kg in the ship's engine room, Judge Mabey said.
In Chen's cabin was a roll of black tape used to strap the ephedrine to his body and a mobile phone which contained messages between Chen and his shore contact.
Chen told police that back in China he was handed a suitcase and asked to bring it to New Zealand where he would receive delivery instructions on his phone to deliver the packages.
He also said he did not know what the packages were, but thought they may be illegal.
Judge Mabey said the pre-sentence report revealed Chen was a married man with children, including a newborn.
Chen had told the report writer that he thought the packages maybe contraband, "perhaps to do with medicines" and he was doing a friend a favour, the judge revealed.
The court heard that when questioned further, Chen said he did not consider at the time that agreeing to bring the suitcase into New Zealand was a serious matter.
Judge Mabey refuted Chen's claims that he did not know what was inside the suitcase.
"I do not accept what Mr Chen said to the police nor to the probation report writer. The fact is he was willing to bring drugs into New Zealand at the Port of Tauranga and supplied some to the drugs to his co-defendant."
Judge Mabey said given the quantities of drugs found, it was clear that Chen would have distributed more if he had been given the opportunity to do so.
"I do not accept Mr Chen was naive and that this was done for little or no gain," Judge Mabey said.
"I'm satisfied he knew exactly what he was doing and took the risk, and now he must pay the penalty."
Judge Mabey said sentenced Chen to four years and five months' prison.
The judge said this took into account his expressed remorse, lack of prior convictions, police co-operation, guilty pleas, and discounts for lack of English and having no support in New Zealand which would make his sentence more onerous than others.
Chen's co-defendant is also facing ephedrine importation and possession for supply charges.