A man who admitted importing 16kg of Class A drugs into New Zealand after one of Customs' largest-ever drug busts at the border has been jailed for more than nine years -
despite claiming he was "duped" into the offending and had no idea of the dangers of methamphetamine in the community.
Last month Canadian national Harpreet Lidder, 24, pleaded guilty to four charges of importing methamphetamine and MDMA and possessing the drugs for supply.
He admitted sneaking 14kg of methamphetamine and 2kg of MDMA across the border.
Lidder was one of three people arrested after Customs seized nearly half a tonne of methamphetamine stashed inside a shipment of electric motors last year.
The estimated 469kg haul was Customs' largest meth seizure at the border and had a street value of about $235 million.
Lidder's charges related to close to 16kg of the bust.
The maximum penalty for importing such drugs is life imprisonment.
Today Justice Ailsa Duffy sentenced Lidder in the High Court at Auckland.
What Lidder did - judge reveals full offending
The court heard that Lidder came to New Zealand with the sole intention of importing the drugs.
He arrived in Auckland in April 2018 and was living in an apartment in the CBD.
In June that year he rented a storage unit and days later Customs received a consignment for Lidder weighing 316kg.
He signed for the consignment and declared it was electric motors.
He took the motors to his storage unit and soon after, deposited cash totalling $45,000 into his bank account.
In early September police executed a search warrant at Lidder's apartment.
He tried to run - leaping off a balcony onto the roof of another building.
But he was caught soon after and charged.
A search of his apartment uncovered the drugs as well as a backpack containing $56,000, $3038 in Canadian currency, ziplock bags, scales and other paraphernalia.
A search warrant at the storage unit turned up more paraphernalia including a heat sealer for plastic bags.
The court heard that the consignment that came to Lidder was the fifth in the major drug operation.
He was not involved in any others.
Lidder 'not the head of the snake' but offending still significant
Earlier in the sentencing hearing Crown prosecutor Henry Steele told the court the amount of drugs was "significant".
He said the defence claimed Lidder was simply a "catcher" in the drug ring.
"Mr Lidder's more than that… he made a calculated decision," Steele said.
"His role was, and a role he carried out - not just one anticipated by him but actually executed… was to receive this importation, unpack it… store it over a number of months and then repackage it for distribution within New Zealand.
"His role goes beyond a catcher, he does play a significant role in this drug trafficking syndicate and he's clearly a trusted member given the amount of drugs in his possession… and what was expected of him in his role.
Steele said the steps Lidder took to involve himself in the offending was "significant".
"I accept he wasn't the head of the snake, so to speak, but he was no means its tail either," he said.
He said there was a suggestion Lidder was "somewhat naive" about the effects of methamphetamine.
"I suggest that should be treated with some scepticism," said Steele, who said Lidder's claim he was not aware of the dangers of methamphetamine was an attempt to "minimise" his crime.
"Unless someone's been living in cave for the last 10 to 15 years it's impossible not to know the destructive effects of methamphetamine."
Steele said despite Lidder claiming remorse in a letter to the court, and an "epiphany" about the seriousness of what he done - he had ultimately failed to accept complete responsibility for his offending.
Defence lawyer John Munro suggested his client had been wooed by harder criminals to participate in the drug importation for money.
He told the court Lidder was not aware of the scale of the drug operation he was involved in and was "exploited" by bigger players in the game.
"He's at least in the criminal world because of his lack of convictions and good character that we can strongly infer that he was a naive participant in this, enticed by whatever financial gain he got," he said.
"Mr Lidder obviously had some role in the commerciality of it and I don't shy away from that… the commercial role he had in that was relatively minor.
"He initially thought it was going to be cannabis he was dealing with… he didn't organise the import."
Munro said Lidder's letter to the court was "well written" and showed he was a man who cared deeply about others.
"It shows good insight into the damage he has done and the impact methamphetamine has on the community," he said.
Punishment for the crime - the sentence
"Given the seriousness… the main purpose of your sentencing is to denounce your conduct," Justice Duffy said.
"You were indeed a link in a much larger chain… a cog in a bigger wheel.
"I am satisfied you were not aware… I am satisfied you possessed little autonomy of your role."
However, she said she was sceptical of Lidder's remorse and claims he was unaware he was bringing meth into New Zealand, or the negative impacts of the drug.
Justice Duffy set a starting point of 15-and-a-half years in prison for Lidder.
She then gave a 10 per cent discount to reflect mitigating factors including prior good character and no previous convictions.
A number of letters were provided to the court from people supporting Lidder including his Canada-based family.
She also gave a 5 per cent discount for Lidder's "young" age, naivety and lack of life experience, remorse and difficulties he may face in prison being a foreign national with no personal support - made more difficult by Covid-19 border restrictions.
She said Lidder was by no means a youth but accepted that he was "vulnerable to pressure" and a lengthy sentence would be "crushing".
"I've reviewed your letter… I am somewhat skeptical that you were unaware of the impact of methamphetamine offending," she said.
"You say you were duped or tricked, you say you thought it was cannabis - your pleading guilty means you accept what is set out in the summary of facts and you accept you knew you were importing methamphetamine."
A 25 per cent discount was also given for Lidder's guilty plea
His total sentence was nine years and three months in prison.
Justice Duffy did not set a minimum period of imprisonment, meaning Lidder would be eligible for parole after serving a third of his sentence.
He is likely to be deported as soon as parole is granted.
Sophisticated and complex: how the Customs bust went down
Customs began an investigation last year targeting an overseas criminal syndicate, and inquiries linked individuals to a New Zealand-based company.
By mid-August, a shipment from Thailand was assessed as high-risk and searched by Customs officers when it arrived at the Ports of Auckland.
The shipping container held 60 electric motors, and each motor hid an average of around 8kg of methamphetamine.
At the time, Customs investigations manager Bruce Berry called it "an extremely sophisticated and complex importation" scheme run by an organised criminal syndicate.
About 65 Customs and police staff conducted search raids across nine Auckland properties finding another 15kg of methamphetamine, a hand gun, and a large quantity of cash.
Based on wastewater analysis data, police estimated that the importation equated to between 22 and 26 weeks' supply of national meth consumption.