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Bungendore business owner Adam Hunter described as ‘a bit of a dreamer’ as he faces court over cocaine excavator drug plot

A man who attempted to import nearly 300 kilograms of cocaine into Australia packed in the arm of an excavator, made the “most stupid decision of his life”, a New South Wales court has heard.

Adam Hunter, 35, pleaded guilty to the crime in the NSW District Court, after police pounced on him and his business partner as they cut open the machine with an angle grinder and began removing packages.

The case revealed an extraordinary tale stretching from Durban in South Africa to Australia, as the refurbished excavator was delivered to Port Kembla aboard a ship named The Morning Peace.

The drugs were contained in one-kilogram packages, clearly seen by police when they x-rayed the machine after they intercepted it.

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$140m worth of cocaine was found inside the excavator

Hunter had no idea authorities were on to him, even after repeated calls made to the port to see when the machine would be delivered had no effect.

Port staff told him it was being steam-cleaned on one day, and later that there were electrical problems.

The machine was finally delivered to Hunter’s landscaping business in the small town of Bungendore just outside Canberra in July, 2019.

Prosecutor Jonathon Emmett said Hunter’s legitimate business was key to the operation.

The court heard there was a total of 276.1 kilograms of drugs in the shipment.

Accused did not play major role in drug plot: defence

Hunter’s barrister Kieren Ginges told the court that his client was “naive”, “a bit of a dreamer” and “an unsophisticated businessman”, who knew little about drugs.

He also played down Hunter’s significance in the attempted importation, saying he had not acted in an autonomous way. 

But prosecutor Jonathon Emmett said his role was significant.

“He has a critical role.”

Mr Emmett described Hunter as somewhere in the middle of the organisation.

“He has taken significant responsibility for every step in bringing the excavator into the country,” he said.

“The fact is in terms of the overall syndicate … without Hunter’s involvement the drugs [would be] stuck in the excavator.”

Brown and black packages full of cocaine laid out in rows on a white mat on a concrete floor.
384 packages, each weighing about 1 kilogram, were taken out of the excavator.(

Supplied: Australian Border Force

)

Mr Emmett also told the court a critical part of the scheme was that Hunter had a legitimate business, which lent credibility to the guise of importing the excavator.

“The need for a legitimate business was critical to this importation,” he said.

But Hunter’s barrister flatly denied any guise.

“It was not, he wanted the excavator,” Mr Gingis told the court.

Mr Gingis said Hunter thought he was getting a $130,000 excavator for $50,000, so he could go on with his business.

“He wanted to get the excavator back into working order and get on with his business,” he said.

Hunter also told the court he did not know what was going to be in the excavator or how much.

Hunter knew what he was getting himself into, court hears

But Justice Andrew Colefax raised concerns about Hunter’s account.

“It did seem to me to be implausible he did not remember when he told his friend that the packages contained illegal drugs … and that his friend did not ask him.”

He said the degree of trust Hunter showed in the others in the alleged syndicate who he did not seem to know, did not make sense, and that Hunter knew what he was getting into.

But Mr Gingis told the court his client had been drawn in by someone who knew he wanted an excavator, knew he was in financial trouble and knew he would be easy to convince.

“[It was] the most stupid decision of his life.”

Hunter will be sentenced next month.


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