Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions

Leonard VAGA, Akram HANNA, Sam ISAAC, Scott MEHSAVANH and Aram YOUNAN

Year: 
2012-2013
Category: 
Serious Drugs
Location: 
New South Wales

Heroin Importation

Operations Dayton and Ellipsis

Operations Dayton and Ellipsis were AFP investigations of a heroin importation enterprise in which ISAAC and VAGA organised and facilitated the importation by couriers of quantities of heroin, sourced from Vietnam, from Thailand into Australia. MEKSAVANH, YOUNAN and HANNA were the couriers who concealed the heroin inside their shoes on their return flights to Australia in January 2009 (MEKSAVANH and YOUNAN) and April 2009 (HANNA).

The heroin imported by YOUNAN was not detected upon its arrival in Australia, however police investigations gathered a large quantity of compelling circumstantial evidence to prove its existence and importation by YOUNAN.

[caption id="attachment_2373" align="alignnone" width="593"]Operations Dayton and Ellipsis Defendant Relationships Operations Dayton and Ellipsis Defendant Relationships[/caption]

For legal reasons, the proceedings against each defendant were heard separately.

 

  • MEKSAVANH’S 12 January 2009 importation, organised and facilitated by ISAAC & VAGA

 

 

On 12 January 2009, then 19 year old MEKSAVANH returned to Australia from a trip to Thailand. At Sydney International Airport, MEKSAVANH was detected by Customs officers to be wearing shoes concealing, beneath the inner soles, packages of a substance containing 531g of pure heroin. MEKSAVANH admitted to the AFP to being aware that the substance he was smuggling inside in his shoes might be an illicit drug.

AFP investigations established that:

 

  • In December 2008 MEKSAVANH had been offered the opportunity to have a holiday in Thailand with ISAAC’S adult son and another of their friends.
  • ISAAC paid expenses associated with MEKSAVANH’S holiday. Prior to his return to Australia, ISAAC approached MEKSAVANH and offered to pay him $10,000-$20,000 if he would return to Australia wearing shoes concealing something inside them.
  • The heroin imported by MEKSAVANH had been obtained by ISAAC and VAGA who had travelled from Thailand to Vietnam to have the shoes filled, returning to Thailand overland via Cambodia.
  • VAGA returned to Sydney on the same incoming flight as MEKSAVANH in order to collect the shoes worn by MEKSAVANH upon their arrival in Sydney.

 

 

MEKSAVANH was charged with and pleaded guilty to importing into Australia a marketable quantity of a border controlled drug pursuant to section 307.2(1) of the Criminal Code.

 

  • YOUNAN’S 12 January 2009 importation, organised and facilitated by ISAAC & VAGA

 

 

On 12 January 2009, then 47 year old YOUNAN returned to Australia from a trip to Thailand on the same incoming flight as MEKSAVANH and VAGA.

AFP investigations later identified that:

 

  • In December 2009, YOUNAN had met with ISAAC and VAGA and agreed to travel to Thailand and to return to Australia wearing shoes concealing something inside them in return for payment of $20,000 plus expenses.
  • YOUNAN had travelled to Thailand separately from, but on both the same outgoing and incoming flights as MEKSAVANH – YOUNAN’S flights also having been arranged by ISAAC and VAGA.
  • YOUNAN wore a similar pair of shoes to MEKSAVANH, also concealing packages beneath their inner soles, on the incoming flight.
  • The shoes worn by YOUNAN upon his return had previously been taken by ISAAC and VAGA from Thailand to Vietnam to have them filled, together with the shoes worn by MEKSAVANH.
  • VAGA sat with YOUNAN on the incoming flight and directed YOUNAN to pass through Customs separately from MEKSAVANH.
  • YOUNAN avoided detection by Customs at Sydney International Airport and subsequently arranged for the shoes and heroin to be provided to VAGA, whereupon he was paid by VAGA.

 

 

YOUNAN was subsequently charged with importing into Australia a marketable quantity of a border controlled drug pursuant to section 307.2(1) of the Criminal Code. YOUNAN entered a not guilty plea on the basis that he had genuinely believed he had been smuggling diamonds into Australia and proceeded to trial. A jury ultimately found him guilty.

YOUNAN was further criminally involved in the heroin importation enterprise after his January 2009 importation.

HANNA’S 3 April 2009 importation, organised and facilitated by ISAAC & YOUNAN

On 3 April 2009, then 45 year old HANNA, a friend of YOUNAN, returned to Australia from a trip to Thailand. At Sydney International Airport, HANNA was detected to be wearing shoes concealing beneath the inner soles packages of a substance containing 642.1g of pure heroin. HANNA told Customs that believed that what he was importing was “maybe diamonds”.

AFP investigations established that:

 

  • In March 2009, YOUNAN met with ISAAC and asked to travel to Thailand to again return to Australia wearing shoes concealing something inside them in return for payment of $20,000 plus expenses. Both men knew of MEKSAVANH’S prior arrest on 12 January 2009. ISAAC agreed with YOUNAN, asking YOUNAN to recruit others to accompany him.
  • YOUNAN approached HANNA and recruited him to travel to Thailand with him in order that they could both return to Australia wearing shoes concealing something inside them in return for $20,000 each, plus expenses.
  • HANNA travelled to Thailand on the same outgoing flight as YOUNAN, their flights having been arranged by YOUNAN who paid using money he received from ISAAC, however HANNA’S incoming flight was scheduled, at ISAAC’S request, to return to Australia two days prior to YOUNAN’S incoming flight.
  • In Australia, ISAAC provided YOUNAN and HANNA with shoes and then met YOUNAN and HANNA in Thailand where he directed them to travel to Vietnam to have the shoes filled. YOUNAN and HANNA received additional payment from Isaac for doing so.
  • YOUNAN and HANNA travelled to Vietnam, where the shoes were filled, and then returned to Thailand overland via Cambodia, following the same route previously followed by ISAAC and VAGA.
  • YOUNAN and HANNA examined their shoes and, after meeting with ISAAC, modified them to make them more comfortable to wear.
  • HANNA returned to Australia alone, to be followed by YOUNAN two days later.
  • As YOUNAN was unable to contact HANNA by telephone following HANNA’S arrest in Sydney, YOUNAN contacted ISAAC and indicated he was unwilling to return from Thailand to Australia with the shoes, making arrangements for their collection in Thailand.
  • YOUNAN then returned to Australia without the shoes and subsequently obtained part-payment from ISAAC for his role.

 

 

HANNA was charged with 1 count of importing into Australia a marketable quantity of a border controlled drug pursuant to section 307.2(1) of the Criminal Code. After initially pleading not guilty, HANNA ultimately entered a guilty plea, recognising that he had, at least, been criminally reckless that what he had been smuggling into Australia was an illicit drug.

YOUNAN was further charged with 1 count of aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the import of a marketable quantity of a border controlled drug pursuant to sections 307.2(1) and 11.2(1) of the Criminal Code. YOUNAN pleaded not guilty to this offence. After a month long trial a jury found him guilty.

ISAAC was charged with 3 counts of aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the importation of a marketable quantity of a border controlled drug pursuant to sections 307.2(1) and 11.2(1) of the Criminal Code. After initially pleading guilty to 1 count and not guilty to the remaining 2 counts, ISAAC pleaded guilty to all counts immediately prior to his trial.

VAGA was charged with 2 counts of aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the importation of a marketable quantity of a border controlled drug pursuant to sections 307.2(1) and 11.2(1) of the Criminal Code. VAGA pleaded not guilty to both counts. After a 7 week trial, a jury found VAGA guilty of both counts.

The defendants were sentenced as follows:

ISAAC: Total effective penalty of 11 years 8 months imprisonment with a non-parole period of 8½ years. In sentencing 54 year old ISAAC, the court found that ISAAC had been the principal organiser in the heroin importation enterprise, assisted by VAGA, and that ISAAC, contrary to his assertions, had known MEKSAVANH, YOUNAN and HANNA had been smuggling illicit drugs, and not some other type of smuggled good, into Australia.

Following an appeal this sentence was reduced to 9 years 10 months imprisonment with a non-parole period of 7 years 5 months. The NSW Court of Criminal Appeal held that ISAAC had not been afforded a proper reduction in penalty for some of his offences, having regard to the circumstances of the proceedings.

VAGA: Total effective penalty of 10½ years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 6 years. In sentencing 60 year old VAGA, the court found that VAGA, as an organiser in the heroin importation enterprise, had known that what MEKSAVANH and YOUNAN had been smuggling into Australia were illicit drugs. VAGA’S sentence reflected his role as an organiser and the absence of demonstrated contrition and remorse for his involvement in the criminal activity.

YOUNAN: Total effective penalty of 7 years 5 months with a non-parole period of 4½ years.

The defendant’s subsequent appeal against sentence was dismissed.

HANNA: 7 years 2 months imprisonment with a non-parole period of 5 years 4 months.

MEKSAVANH: 6½ years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 3½ years.