By Katie Todd, RNZ
A Christchurch woman police say was the mastermind of a $4 million synthetic cannabis ring was yelling in court and trying to distribute flyers yesterday before her sentencing today.
Fei He, 48, is one of three Christchurch residents due to be sentenced this morning after entering a guilty plea for selling or supplying non-approved psychoactive substances - but she's decided to protest her innocence.
She will appear before Judge Stephen O'Driscoll, along with 34-year-old Sui Jun Zhou and 30-year-old Xiwen Miao, who have also entered guilty pleas to the same charge.
Police say the synthetic cannabis was distributed from the Sockburn dairy, where it was hidden in places like ice cream containers and a ceiling light cavity.
The three were arrested after the police operation Sin in 2015, and they initially denied the charges, but their six week trial ended early in June this year after all the defendants decided to plead guilty.
Fei He is now trying to retract her guilty plea on the basis it was under duress.
Judge O'Driscoll yesterday heard submissions from the defence, and the Crown.
While wearing a gown that said 'Operation Sin: We Protect Life', Fei He declined legal representation.
She was threatened with removal from court after she yelled "justice for the people" and tried to give flyers to people in the public gallery and at the media bench.
Judge O'Driscoll said it was unfortunate she had declined representation.
"An experienced lawyer could have assisted her in terms of an appropriate sentence," Judge O'Driscoll said.
Anselm Williams, counsel for Sui Jun Zhou, asked for a sentence of home detention for his client.
He said Zhou was "a street level dealer, albeit a reasonably successful one".
Trudi Aickin, counsel for Xiwen Miao, also sought home detention for her client, who she said was merely a naive "worker bee" in the drug ring.
She noted the base product of the seized synthetic cannabis, damiana plant, is not illegal in New Zealand and is used by Chinese people for medicinal purposes.
It is only once chemicals or processes are applied to the plant that it becomes psychoactive.
She noted that due to restrictive bail conditions, Miao had lost his job since his arrest. He was also unable to renew his working visa, return to China to marry his fiancee, or support his mother after she had a serious health event.
All three defendants are on bail until their appearance, which is set for 9am today.