Wife defends yachtsman arrested over 1.4 tonne cocaine bust
Posted on February 7, 2017 | By Henry | Leave a response
An international yachtsman was allegedly duped into the biggest cocaine bust in Australian history when his captain suddenly changed the co-ordinates of their boat, his wife says.
Veteran sailors Hamish Thompson, 63, from New Zealand, and dual Swiss-Fiji national Valentino Fries, 54, were arrested on board the New Zealand yacht Elakha just after midnight on Friday.
Four other alleged syndicate members were arrested on Friday, mostly men in their 60s including a former Sydney school teacher, an eastern suburbs tradesman and a maritime worker.
Following a two-year investigation, Australian authorities intercepted the Elakha 370 kilometres off the NSW South Coast and found 1.4 tonnes of cocaine bound for the east coast of Australia.
The largest drug haul in Australian history had a street value of $312 million.
Police allege the Elakha travelled from New Zealand and met a “mother ship” in the South Pacific Ocean last month to collect cocaine from South America.
The cocaine was intended to be transferred from the Elakha to a small motor boat that was due to leave from the small NSW South Coast town of St Georges Basin.
However, three men – David Wren, 66, Kevin Michael Geraghty, 63, and Glen James Willcox, 62 – were arrested in St Georges Basin on Friday before they could head out to sea to meet Mr Thompson and Mr Fries.
Mr Fries, who runs yacht “safaris” in Fiji, sailed from Europe in the 1990s and says on his website that he settled on the small island nation because of its “beautiful islands and rich culture”.
It’s understood he often works as a first mate for Mr Thompson, a delivery captain who delivers yachts to various locations around the Pacific Ocean.
Mr Thompson was born into a “high-achieving family” but turned to working for a fibreglass business in Mauritius when he failed as a journalist, a court heard during an unrelated matter in 2007.
He later became a maritime worker who fixes boats.
Mr Fries’ wife in Fiji said her husband had never been involved in illicit activity.
He called on Sunday in a state of shock, saying his captain changed the boat’s route while out at sea.
“He would never, never do anything like that. No amount of money would make him do that,” she said.
Police allege Mr Geraghty, from Clovelly, and Mr Willcox, a Randwick electrician, travelled to St George Basin last week to meet Mr Wren, a caretaker of a Maritime Union training facility in the coastal town.
It’s alleged the three were going to meet the Elakha out at sea. However, they were arrested hours after HMAS Bathurst boarded the yacht in a midnight raid.
Mr Geraghty was a P.E. teacher at Randwick Boys’ High in the late 1990s.
Yahay Magdalawi, 32, who also goes by the name John Majdalawi and runs a tiling business in Punchbowl, was also arrested on Friday.
The men, many of whom have known each other for decades, have been charged with conspiracy to import a border controlled drug which carries a maximum life sentence.
The investigation started with a tip-off from New Zealand authorities, who had been watching the Elakha for four years.
Justice Minister Michael Keenan said the intercept would put a huge dent in cocaine supply but several busts in the last two months show that Australia is a “honey pot” for global syndicates.
One kilogram of cocaine sells for $26,000 in America or $240,000 in Australia due to the higher street price.
Australian Federal Police acting deputy commissioner Neil Gaughan said the arrests were “a testament to the officers’ drive and determination”.