A Russian sailor on a boat from South America, two short trips to New Zealand by Polish nationals and a secret meet-up at a Mount Maunganui New World carpark led to almost 4kg of cocaine being distributed throughout the country, prosecutors allege.
Patryk Lukasz Lukasik, Ryszard Wilk and Aleksandr Cherushev pleaded not guilty to seven charges collectively as their trial began at the High Court in Auckland on Monday.
They sat solemnly in the dock, separated by police and aided by interpreters, as a jury of eight women and four men was chosen.
The trial follows a three-year police investigation into the importation and supply of cocaine.
It's alleged Cherushev imported around 4kg of the class A drug into Auckland in September 2016 as the chief officer on board Discovery Bay, a container ship arriving from South America.
Polish man Wilk and his son helped to supply the drugs to New Zealand-based distributors over two short trips in September and November 2016, the Crown claims, while attempting to smuggle back cash for themselves.
The pair were aided by a third Polish man, Lukasik, who helped with money laundering, the jury heard.
The three are collectively charged with importing cocaine into New Zealand in September 2016.
Aleksandr Cherushev has also been accused of supplying cocaine in September 2016 at Auckland or Tauranga.
Ryszard Wilk faces other charges of supplying, conspiring to import and possession of cocaine, as well as conspiring to import class B drug MDMA between September 2016 and June 2017.
The Crown alleges Patryk Lukasz Lukasik engaged in a money-laundering transaction in December 2016 to the total of $2382.20 in Auckland.
Crown opening arguments
In the Crown's opening arguments, it claims each of the three defendants played important roles in ensuring cocaine was imported into New Zealand and supplied to others.
Prosecutor Sam Teppett alleges that when Discovery Bay docked, Wilk along with his son Ralph, met with and allegedly paid the Russian sailor for about 4kg of cocaine.
Discovery Bay was searched by Customs but they found nothing.
Cherushev got off the vessel and went into the Auckland CBD, meeting with the Wilks with the cocaine he just brought with him into New Zealand, Teppett said.
Discovery Bay departed from Auckland for Tauranga – the same day he messaged the Wilks to meet up because the Wilks owed a debt to Cherushev for bringing cocaine to New Zealand.
The Crown said the Wilks met with Cherushev at a New World car park at Mt Maunganui to discuss the debt, then the boat left the following day.
Cherushev returned to New Zealand in October 2019 on a vessel that docked in Nelson. He denied to police he was involved in cocaine importing.
"The Wilks were here to assist with importation by taking possession of the cocaine," said Teppett.
The Wilks then supplied cocaine to New Zealand-based distributors, he alleged.
The Wilks also left New Zealand but returned for second trip two months later.
The purpose of this trip was to supply the remaining 2kg of cocaine and take profits of the drug operation overseas, the Crown alleges.
"At this point police were alerted to the fact they were up to no good and intercepted communications from their mobile phones ... which the Crown says shows drug deals," said Teppett.
Wilk's son has previously pleaded guilty to supplying cocaine and money-laundering charges.
The third defendant, Lukasik, arrived in Auckland from the UK in December 2016.
"He declared the visit was a holiday but the visit was to assist in getting money from cocaine suppliers out of New Zealand," said Teppett.
Lukasik worked with Mohammed Khan, a man who has previously pleaded guilty to money laundering, to help the Wilks "discuss business".
Lukasik also dealt with money which was the proceeds of an offence carried out by another person, the Crown claims.
On December 12, 2016, Lukasik was due to depart from New Zealand.
Prior to leaving his luggage was searched, and $40,000 in cash was discovered.
Meanwhile, Ryszard Wilk remained in New Zealand.
"There was still a lot of money that needed to be transferred overseas ... he wouldn't leave until money could be transferred," said Teppett.
Police photographed meetings between the Wilks and Khan to transfer money - one transaction was to Ecuador, the court heard.
Police also secretly searched Wilk's luggage and hotel rooms while he stayed in New Zealand.
He was in possession of significant sums of cash, hidden in plastic bags and locked in suitcases, the Crown alleges.
On April 16, 2017 Wilk was due to depart from Auckland.
Police located $70,000 on him and seized his phone and took photos of all his messages without his knowledge, the jury was told.
These messages prove his meet-up with Cherushev, the Crown alleges.
In 2017 police located half-buried empty black rubbish bags at Auckland's Bastion Point, along with 3.5g of cocaine.
"That was the only cocaine located by police during this investigation because the defendants successfully imported the rest the year before," said Teppett.
Wilk's lawyer Annabel Ives told the jury that his son Ralph has pleaded guilty to supplying cocaine, but warned them: "Do not let the sins of the son impact on the father, there is no guilt by association ... in this courtroom. You cannot just assume Wilk knew what his son was doing."
"There was 3.6g of cocaine located in a public reserve, four months after my client left New Zealand. That's not 4kg of cocaine ... 3.6g.
"When you hear evidence, I suggest you will not be sure this 4kg was imported."
Meanwhile, counsel for Lukasik, Lorraine Smith, questioned whether the Crown knew Lukasik was aware of the "important material".
Similarly Cherushev's lawyer Ron Mansfield questioned the Crown's evidence that his client had any involvement in drug importation.
"Where is the evidence my client had any involvement of drugs at all ... where is evidence he knows any of the other men charged with him?
"Where is the evidence he supplied any drug to anyone, let alone the Wilks, as alleged."
He told the jury Cherushev denies ever having possession of the phone that sent and received messages from Wilk.
"When he came to New Zealand as a crew member of another boat, he was spoken to by police and he denied any involvement ... and nothing relevant was found on him at that time."