Pair jailed over $90 million cocaine import conspiracy

Rex Martinich |

Two men have been jailed for more than 20 years each for their conspiracy to import 600 kilograms of cocaine worth up to $90 million.

Paul Michael Smith, 63, and Jeffrey John Sagar, 68, both of Sydney, faced Brisbane Supreme Court for sentencing after being found guilty by a jury on Thursday of conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs.

The two men attempted between April 2016 and June 2018 to import 300kg of cocaine from Peru in South America to Papua New Guinea and then across the Torres Strait to the small town of Bamaga at the northern tip of Queensland’s Cape York peninsula.

The cocaine was intended to arrive in a shipping container and be concealed amidst pallets of jam but the drugs were missing when the consignment arrived.

After negotiating with their South American drug suppliers, Smith and Sagar tried to arrange for a second 300kg load to be sent over but were arrested before this plan was enacted.

Smith was also found guilty after the 14-day trial of dealing in proceeds of crime through providing nearly $38,000 in cash to PNG national Charles Wagambio to receive the intended shipments of cocaine in Port Moresby.

Smith and Sagar also hired Wagambio to provide bribes to customs and quarantine officials in PNG in return for their cargo not being inspected.

Wagambio was sentenced to at least six-and-a-half years’ imprisonment in 2019 after pleading guilty to his role in the conspiracy.

Smith’s barrister said on Friday that his client had made several admissions about the evidence against him and therefore shortened the length of the trial.

Sagar’s barrister said his client believed he would  “die in prison” due to poor health and had been suffering from depression while the criminal case had been hanging over his head for the past five years.

Justice Lincoln Crowley said both men had shown no signs of remorse for having engaged in “high level” international drug offences in concert with organised crime groups purely for the expectation of significant financial gain.

“You planned to take advantage of lax border security and corrupt officials in other countries,” Justice Crowley said.

He said Sagar had been involved in the plan since its inception and had recruited Wagambio to face the biggest risks of police detection.

“You expended resources and made very substantial efforts to avoid detection,” Justice Crowley said.

Smith and Sagar communicated with each other and conspirators overseas using code words such as ‘gold’ for the cocaine while referring to themselves as ‘the team’ and Wagambio as ‘the local broker’.

Smith, a former private lending consultant and gold exploration business owner, was sentenced to 26 years’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of 16 years with 149 days deducted for time previously served on remand.

Sagar, a former gambling agent and race horse trainer, was sentenced to 24 years with a non-parole period of 12 years with 49 days as time served.