A second co-defendant from an international drug conspiracy trial that garnered widespread attention after a prolonged name suppression battle by former boxing champ Joseph Parker has received some relief from the Court of Appeal.
Tevita Kulu, who was serving an 18-year sentence with a minimum period of imprisonment of 50 per cent, will now have the minimum possible period reduced to 40 per cent, according to a judgement released this morning.
The new minimum term of imprisonment is in line with co-defendant Tevita Fangupo, who had a similar reduction in 2020 as a result of his sentencing appeal.
The men were sentenced in 2019 alongside two other co-defendants, Toni Finau and Halane Ikiua, for their participation in an international drug operation between California and New Zealand.
Parker was never charged with any crime but prosecutors suggested during the trial that he played a role in transporting and changing currency. In a sworn affidavit, the Kiwi heavyweight strenuously denied the allegations. The media was not allowed to publish Parker's name for more than a year after the trial, until Parker's bid for permanent name suppression eventually faltered before the Supreme Court.
Kulu and Fangupo imported multiple packages of methamphetamine into New Zealand between June 2017 and January 2018.
"Both men had conspired to import 21kg of methamphetamine, imported 27kg of cocaine, and unlawfully possessed firearms," the Court of Appeal noted in today's judgment. "Additionally, Mr Kulu twice supplied 0.5kg of methamphetamine and thrice offered to supply additional quantities of the drug.
"He had bundles of cash totalling almost $215,000 in his apartment when arrested."
During their sentencing, Justice Mathew Downs described Kulu and Fangupo as having "complementary, leading roles" and as having been equals "at the top" of a "home-grown operation" they established themselves.
In determining a 50 per cent minimum term of imprisonment for both men, Justice Moore noted that allowing them to be eligible for parole after serving only one-third of their sentences " would send quite the wrong message".
Fangupo was sentenced to 17 years' imprisonment, while Kulu was sentenced to 18 years' prison.
However, Fangupo's overall sentence was also reduced in 2020 as a result of his appeal. He is now serving a term of 14 years and five months.
Kulu's own appeal was filed about a year late, "doubtless encouraged by the result in his co-offender's appeal", the Court of Appeal noted today. But the justices opted to grant an extension.
Like his co-defendant, Kulu had also sought a reduction in his overall sentence but the Court of Appeal found that the 18-year term should stand.
"Mr Kulu appeals on the basis of parity," the court noted. "... Mr Fangupo is now serving a significantly more lenient sentence. According to Mr Kulu, the appropriate sentence for him is one of 15 years and four months' imprisonment with an MPI of 40 per cent."
But the Court of Appeal found Justice Downs had reached an appropriate starting point for Kulu during the sentencing hearing and the panel was "not persuaded" Downs erred "in his assessment of personal factors mitigating sentence".
"It follows that parity with Mr Fangupo does not compel any adjustment..." the judgment states.