28 Nov 2019

Multi-million synthetic cannabis ring: Trio sentenced in unprecedented case

6:02 pm on 28 November 2019

The mastermind behind a multi-million dollar synthetic cannabis ring in Christchurch has been sentenced to two years and four months in prison.

Auckland court coat of arms.

Photo: RNZ / Patrice Allen

Fei He, 48, Sui Jun Zhou, 34, and Xiwen Miao, 30, appeared for sentencing after pleading guilty to two charges of supplying, and possessing to supply non-approved, psycho-active substances.

In the Christchurch District Court today, Judge Stephen O'Driscoll sentenced He to two years and four months in prison for her role as the primary offender in the drug ring.

Zhou, who was described by the Crown as He's lieutenant, was sentenced to 26 months in prison for his role in the ring and a number of firearms charges.

Miao was given eight months' home detention, and 250 hours of community service for his role in packaging the drugs for sale.

In his summary, Judge O'Driscoll said the 173kg of synthetic cannabis seized in Operation Sin by police in 2016 was unprecedented.

"This is the largest amount of synthetic cannabis found in an operation that has come before the court in New Zealand."

He said the closest comparison was a case where 2kg of synthetic cannabis was seized.

The trio appeared in court yesterday for the first part of their sentencing.

However, He had not read the Crown's submissions or the pre-sentence report. She declined legal representation against the judge's advice and tried to retract her guilty plea.

She was also threatened with removal from court after yelling out "justice for the people" and trying to give flyers to people in the public gallery and at the media bench.

Judge O'Driscoll proceeded to adjourn yesterday's hearing, so He could familiarise herself with the pre-sentence report and Crown's submissions.

When she appeared in court today, He was wearing a silver pantsuit with the words 'Operation Sin: We Protect Life' stitched across the back.

When asked by Judge O'Driscoll to confirm the Crown's submission and pre-sentence report she said, with the help of a Mandarin translator, the only thing that was correct were her biographic details.

She said the Crown's case against her was built on information that was fabricated by police.

She told the court police blackmailed her to accept the products, and forced her to pay protection fees.

She said the products she sold were a Chinese herbal medicine, and her neighbours and customers could back up her story.

The other two defendants were not part of her team, she said.

She said she wanted to reiterate that she was a hard working solo mother who was caring for her sick son, and finished by thanking police for making her famous overnight.

Judge O'Driscoll dismissed He's claims.

"If you honestly believed your products were legal, you would have not hidden them in that manner.

"People do not go around in cars and sell Chinese medicine in car parks and other clandestine meetings.

He said people selling Chinese medicine did not arm themselves with firearms.

"You have been caught out and you want to save face by denying your offending."

Judge O'Driscoll said He was motivated by greed and easy money was to be made by preying upon vulnerable people in the community.

"It is clear that synthetic cannabis has caused considerable harm to the New Zealand community.

"It causes health issues to users, it causes users to act in a way they would not ordinarily act in, it causes users to commit offences to obtain funds to obtain more synthetic cannabis."

However, he said, the maximum penalty for possessing synthetic cannabis was two years in prison, which was considerably less then if the substance was pure cannabis.