The seizure of 1.2 tonnes of methamphetamine in the port city of Geraldton almost five years ago was preceded months earlier by the “successful importation” of hundreds of kilograms of the drug, the WA Supreme Court has been told.
- The methamphetamine had a street value of $160 million
- The drugs were transferred to the men’s vessel mid-ocean
- Their boat nearly ran out of fuel and was forced to go to Geraldton
The revelation came at the start of a new trial for five men accused of involvement in the massive drug importation in December 2017 — Jabour Anthony Lahood, 56, Peter Harb, 48, Christos Cafcakis, 48, Serupepeli Anthony Rasaubale, 38 and Khalid Elia Kaena , 57.
The court was told the methamphetamine, or ice — worth about $160 million — had been transferred onto a 55-foot vessel, called the Valkoista, in a mid-ocean rendezvous with another vessel dubbed “the Asian boat.”
It is alleged the crew members on each boat provided a half-torn Hong Kong bank note to verify their identities before the transfer took place.
Police were watching
Commonwealth prosecutor Chris O’Donnell SC said the Valkoista then made its way to Geraldton where a “ground crew” was waiting to collect the drugs.
Unbeknown to those involved, the importation was being watched by police, who swooped as the 60 bags containing the drugs were loaded into a van.
Mr O’Donnell said Mr Cafcakis was one of the crew on the Valkoista, Mr Rasaubale and Mr Kaena were members of the ground crew, and Mr Lahood and Mr Harb were the organizers of the operation and oversaw what was happening from Sydney.
Mr O’Donnell said the importation had not “come out of the blue” but had followed a successful operation five months earlier, when the Valkoista had been purchased for $350,000.
Those who bought the boat were told they needed to look for a vessel that had a carrying capacity of between 400 kilograms and 800 kilograms.
The methamphetamine smuggled in during the July operation was transferred to the Valkoista mid-ocean, then driven from Geraldton to Sydney, Mr O’Donnell said.
He said that earlier importation was the beginning of a “chain of events” that culminated in the December drugs seizure.
Boat running low on fuel
The court heard the drugs were again transferred to the Valkoista in a mid-ocean rendezvous in December 2017, and while they were meant to be taken back to Hillarys, in Perth’s north, they ended up in Geraldton because that was the nearest port and the Valkoista was low on fuel.
Mr O’Donnell said the “successful” importation happened after meetings in Sydney involving Mr Lahood and Mr Rasaubale.
The names of the three other accused men were not linked to the July operation, but Mr O’Donnell said “almost certainly” other people were involved who had not been charged.
Witnesses in the case are expected to include two men who were involved in the December importation—the captain of the Valkoista and one of the “ground crew.”
At the beginning of the case, Justice Michael Corboy informed the jury members there had been a previous trial involving the men, but it had concluded for reasons he said were not relevant to anything they will have to consider.
Accused was ‘manipulated, misled’
In an opening address to the jury, defense lawyer Paul Bevilaqua described his client, Mr Cafcakis, as “the sort of guy who is always looking out for others”.
“It’s those very qualities that led him to be manipulated, misled and used,” Mr Bevilacqua told the jury.
He maintained his client, when he got on the Valkoista, had no idea it was going to pick up anything, let alone more than a tonne of drugs.
Mr Bevilacqua said the rendezvous with the so-called Asian boat happened when a boatload full of shouting men, at least one who was armed with a gun, tossed 60 bags onto the Valkoista.
“Mr Cafcakis didn’t know any of this was going to happen… there is so much more to this story than what you’ve heard.”
Ground crew member to testify for prosecution
The lawyers for the two men alleged to have been part of the ground crew, Mr Rasaubale and Mr Kaena, urged the jury to carefully examine the evidence of the other ground crew member who is going to testify for the prosecution.
They told the court his honesty and reliability will clearly be an issue in the case.
Mr Lahood’s lawyer, Craig Astill, maintained his client was “simply not involved.”
“He was on the other side of the country in Sydney … yet he was the one the Crown is saying was overseeing everything,” Mr Astill said.
“By the end of the trial… you might think he was the very antithesis of a manager.”
Mr Astill suggested that another two men, who are not part of the trial, may have instead been the ones who masterminded the importation.
He urged the jury to carefully scrutinize the evidence of the captain of the Valkoista, who will also be testifying for the prosecution, saying he was the one who was caught “red-handed”.
“You might think he very much has a motivation to start pointing his finger at other people.”