Two drug couriers caught trying to smuggle 5kg of ecstasy, with a rough street value of $2 million, into New Zealand hidden in a suitcase, have today been jailed for nearly six years.
Israeli citizens Vadim Shkolnitski, a 36-year-old truck driver, and 33-year-old dive shop owner Vladimir Turovsky were caught with vast quantities of the powdered drug stashed inside a Samsonite suitcase at Christchurch International Airport on April 6 last year.
They had left Europe and travelled through Singapore en route to New Zealand.
Once nabbed by Customs, both men blamed each other for being behind the smuggling.
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The drugs were found in Shkolnitski's bag but neither man said who put them there or who they were intended for. Neither is it clear where the drugs were bound for – circulation in New Zealand, or whether they came in as a "soft landing spot" for shipping elsewhere. A Ukrainian had charges dropped.
But today at Christchurch District Court, they both accepted their roles as couriers, after earlier pleading guilty to importing MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy. A charge of possession to supply the drug was dropped.
The court heard how both men moved to Israel in their childhood - Turovsky from Ukraine and Shkolnitski from Russia – and had built "productive and healthy lives".
Judge Raoul Neave said their "utterly naïve and unbelievably stupid" actions had significantly damaged their lives.
In sentencing them each to five years, nine months' imprisonment, the judge gave them discounts for their previous good character, remorse, and no prior convictions, while also taking time off for the difficulties they will have serving prison time so far away from their families.