Woman accused of ‘drug courier’ role in fake $1.1m deal

A woman is facing trial in Queensland accused of being a “drug courier” in a $1.1 million deal secretly controlled by police.

Thi Phuong Mai Nguyen, of Bass Hill in Sydney’s southwest, pleaded not guilty in Brisbane Supreme Court on Monday to one count of attempting to possess commercial quantities of an unlawfully imported border-controlled drug.

Nguyen, who was aged 48 when arrested in November 2019, also pleaded not guilty to one count of dealing with money worth more than $100,000 intended to become an instrument of crime.

In her opening statement, crown prosecutor Clare O’Connor told the jury Nguyen had been “playing the role of driver or courier” on behalf of an Australian criminal syndicate who were attempting to buy 350 kilograms of MDMA, the active ingredient of the drug ecstasy.

The Australian Federal Police had replaced the MDMA with an inert crystalline substance as part of a joint operation with the National Police of the Netherlands to investigate a crime family that was attempting to smuggle large quantities of drugs into Australia.

Two members of a Dutch family recruited a man in Australia, who was actually an undercover police operative, to import 750kg of MDMA into Brisbane.

Other undercover operatives communicated with the Dutch family via the now-defunct encrypted messaging app Encrochat and arranged to sell 350kg for $1.1m in cash.

Ms O’Connor said Nguyen flew from Sydney to Brisbane on October 29, 2019 before hiring a car and driving to the car park of the Pacific Golf Club in southeast Brisbane.

Nguyen was photographed by police talking on a phone while an undercover operative arrived.

“(Nguyen) was saying she was ‘going to that place to pick up the gear’,” Ms O’Connor said.

Audio of Nguyen was recorded in the operative’s car as the deal fell apart due to Nguyen offering to buy only 150kg of MDMA for $240,000 in cash, which she allegedly had with her in a bag.

“I need all the money. My boss will kill me,” the operative told Nguyen in the audio that was played to the jury.

“My boss won’t let me,” Nguyen replied.

Ms O’Connor said Ms Nguyen did not dispute that it was her voice in the audio.

Nguyen tried again the next day to exchange the cash for the MDMA, which was hidden in boxes in a self-storage building at Mt Gravatt in Brisbane’s south.

Nguyen waited nearby for several hours while undercover police sent messages to the Dutch crime family demanding the Australian syndicate send two men instead of Nguyen to make the purchase.

Nguyen’s barrister did not make an opening statement.

Justice David Boddice told the jury they would have to find that Nguyen attempted to possess the MDMA while knowing it was imported from overseas in order to find her guilty of the drugs charge.

The trial continues on Tuesday.

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