Aussie dad hit with more jail time over $15m cocaine bust
An Australian father doing time in Fiji for cocaine possession has had his jail term increased from 14 to 25 years on appeal, in a landmark decision for the Pacific island nation.
Former Sydney man Joseph Abourizk and Fijian Josese Muriwaqa were sentenced to 14 years' prison, with a non-parole period of 12 years for unlawful possession of illicit drugs on April 29, 2016.
The pair were found with 49.9 kilograms of cocaine worth $15 million at Vuda Marina, near Lautoka, in mid-2015.
The increase of their sentence on appeal to 25 years with a non-parole period of 20 years last week is understood to be the harshest sentence for a drugs offence ever handed down in Fiji.
As part of the judgment, the Fiji Court of Appeal has also set down hard drug sentencing guidelines for the first time, which will see people caught in Fiji with more than 500 grams of cocaine sentenced to up to 22 years jail, and people with more than one kilogram potentially sentenced for life.
When Abourizk and Muriwaqa appealed their 2016 convictions and sentences, they were faced with a counter appeal from the Fiji Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODDP), which argued their 14 year sentence was in fact too lenient, and asked the Court of Appeal to set down sentencing guidelines for all hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
The lack of sentencing guidelines for possession and trafficking of hard drugs in Fiji was at issue in the case of former Melbourne racehorse trainer John Nikolic, who was sentenced to 23 years jail, with a minimum of 18 years, for cocaine trafficking and weapons offences by the Suva High Court in March this year.
At the time of sentencing, prosecutors called for a tough penalty to be handed down to Nikolic, to serve as a deterrent to other potential Australian drug smugglers looking to use the Pacific as a route for the distribution of cocaine and other hard drugs.
The ODDP has since appealed the acquittal of John Nikolic's wife, Yvette, who walked free from the Suva High Court and flew home to Australia, after the judge found she had no case to answer.
It is understood a notice of appeal has not been able to be served on Yvette.
Fiji police arrested tow truck driver Abourizk and Muriwaqa in July 2015 after finding several parcels of cocaine hidden in two suitcases.
Then aged just 30, Abourizk consistently protested his innocence.
His shocked wife Karla told media after the initial sentencing: "He should be coming home."
Abourizk and his wife had been holidaying in Fiji before his arrest, but she went home early because of work commitments.
Abourizk was arrested the next day and subsequently missed the birth of his first child, a daughter named Penelope.
Mrs Abourizk told media at the time she was "beyond words" that her husband had been found guilty and the family was "awaiting a fair reopening of the matter".
The ODDP today released a statement saying the Fiji Court of Appeal had set down the following sentencing guidelines for all hard drugs:
Category One: Up to five grams - 2 ½ years to 4 ½ years' imprisonment.
Category Two: More than 5 grams to 250 grams- 3 ½ years to 10 years' imprisonment.
Category Three: More than 250 grams to 500 grams- 9 years to 16 years' imprisonment.
Category Four: More than 500 grams to 1 kilogram- 15 years to 22 years' imprisonment.
Category Five: More than 1 kilogram - 20 years to life imprisonment.