MELBOURNE – An Indo-American couple, arrested in Australia on drug smuggling charges last year, got respite from an Adelaide court that released the husband on a ‘good behaviour bond’ as part of a plea bargain.
Fifty-six-year-old Inderjit Singh appeared in the local district court and pleaded guilty to one count of importing a border control drug, local media reported. Singh along with his 53-year old wife Jasbinder were arrested in October last year.
The Indo-American couple was accused of smuggling 200 gm of opium into Australia and their lawyer told the court today that the man, who was an addict, feared the wrath of his wife more than that of the law, while trying to smuggle in the drug.
He was sentenced to nine months in prison but the judge ordered that he be released on a two-year ‘good behaviour bond’ of 500 dollars.
They were jointly charged with importing or exporting a marketable quantity of a border-controlled drug and were facing possible 25-year jail terms.
It was alleged that the couple was carrying the drug which was mixed with another substance and was placed inside shampoo and talcum powder tins and packed with chillis.
Earlier, prosecutors had told the court the amount of opium in the couple’s luggage was 10 times what is considered, under law, to be criminally marketable.
However, today they tendered no evidence against Jasbinder and downgraded the charge against Inderjit.
In sentencing, Judge Wayne Chivell said he would take Inderjit’s assertions into account “with a grain of salt”.
“You went to elaborate lengths to disguise (the drug),” he said while jailing Inderjit for nine months. The judge also ordered he be immediately released on a two-year, 500 dollar ‘good behaviour bond’.
“I accept you have suffered greatly as a result of this very foolish behaviour,” he said.
Immigration Department officers were present in court for the hearing and escorted the couple “for interview”.
Singh’s lawyer Jessica Kurtzer told the court the plea bargain reflected the unique circumstances of the case. She said an Indian hospital had legally prescribed her client opium for irritable bowel syndrome only for him to become addicted.
The couple, she said, came to Adelaide as part of a planned tour of Australia and New Zealand.
“Prior to departure, my client’s wife confronted him to see if he was bringing his medication (and said) if he was, she would simply not go,” Kurtzer said.
“He didn’t want to argue with his wife about it (and) decided he would bring it to Australia in the tins, not realising the criminality behind it”.”He was more concerned with fearing the wrath of his wifethan the law,” the lawyer said.
Kurtzer said her client was no longer an addict after spending eight weeks in custody and undergoing enforced detox.
“That’s the irony of his trip to Australia – he had to come here and get arrested to stop using this medication”.
She asked he be immediately released so he could return to India as the couple’s business and property was in jeopardy and the couple’s three adult children were ill.
Meanwhile, prosecution Alice Devitt said chilli was a well-known method of attempting to distract sniffer dogs.
She said customs officers had caught Inderjit trying to flush some of the opium down a toilet.