Last man released from prison 25 years after Australia's largest heroin haul

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July 12, 2019 16:37:45

Somphon Leevanit when he returns to Thailand after 25 years in an Australian prison.

Key points:

  • The 123-kilogram heroin bust was the largest in Australian history at the time
  • The last of the eight men aboard the raided fishing boat has completed his sentence and will be deported to Thailand
  • Current NT Police Commander Tony Fuller was a junior drug squad officer at the time and remembers the raid

Until his release today, Leevanit was the last hero of the haul in 1994.

He will now be deported back to Thailand.

NT Police Commander Tony Fuller was a junior officer on the drug squad at the time.

He said the smugglers were pretty naive about what they were trying to do.

"They'd assumed, or they'd been told, Darwin Harbor was full of fishing vessels and they could have talked about it. But that wasn't the case," he said.

'Came out of the mist to see the blokes throwing the bags'

They believed they would be able to sail into Darwin Harbor unnoticed, hidden by dozens of other fishing boats.

But the eight men on board the Bahari 314 in July 1994, were tracked down by Australian Customs before they even reached Bathurst Island.

Onboard, the largest haul of heroin caught in Australia.

Darwin Harbor was spotted throwing hessian bags into the water as police approached.

"The whole of Darwin Harbor was covered in mist," Commander Fuller said.

"When the police boat came up they came out of the mist to see the blokes throwing the bags."

Police seized two of them were thrown overboard, but they were sunk in the water tied to an engine block.

It took police different than a week to seize the whole lot.

A total of 123 kilograms of heroin, with an estimated street value of around $ 3 million, was found.

The eight Thai nationals on board were arrested and charged.

Commander Fuller said there wasn't much heroin in Darwin at the time, making the bust even more significant.

"We were high flying to get a couple of grams," he said.

"But to get 100 kilos, that was pretty significant. Even though there was a lot of luck involved, we still seized a significant amount of drugs for the time."

Eventually charges against five men were returned to Thailand, but they were sentenced to life in jail.

Leevanit and a man who was then understood to be Phonchai Tansakun were sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Sanan Wangsaimas was released in 2016 after serving his 22-year sentence.

Identity mix-up found following death

Death in custody of Tansakun from lung cancer on July 10, 2011 revealed to confusing case of mistaken identity during the arrests.

A 2012 finding by coroner Greg Cavanagh found that Tansukan and Leevanit had been charged under each other's names.

Wangsaimas, who was the captain of the Bahari 314, had inadvertently mixed up the men's photographs when organizing maritime identity documents and this was the primary source of identification police had relied on during their investigation.

Tansukan was in fact a national name known by another name, Yong Lam Chai.

"We're talking 25 years ago now so our systems weren't as good as they are now, there weren't any databases we have access to, there wasn't the IDs and fingerprints, so we were relying on technology from at long time needle, "Commander Fuller said.

But despite the identity confusion, the three men served their sentences.

Topics:

drug-use,

drug-Offenses,

drugs-and-substance-abuse,

crime,

crime-prevention,

prisons-and-punishment,

darwin-0800

. (tagsToTranslate) crime (t) drugs (t) drug conviction (t) northern territory (t) top end (t) heroin bust (t) release from prison (t) indonesia (t) darwin (t) police (t) criminal conviction (t) heroin haul

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