ACT News

Canberra man accused of leading drug syndicate granted bail

A Canberra man has been granted bail after being charged with importing a marketable quantity of cocaine worth an estimated $20,000.

Crown prosecutor Katrina Musgrove alleged Christopher Johnston, 24 of Lyneham, was the principal organiser of a criminal syndicate involving two other men.

Ms Musgrove opposed bail before Magistrate Robert Cook in the ACT Magistrates Court on Wednesday and alleged there was a strong likelihood Johnston would interfere with two other alleged offenders.

Alexander Bassingthwaighte, 23, and Paul James McCauley, 22, were arrested in November after they allegedly collected a package which had been delivered by police to Macauley's grandmother and contained the drugs. 

The court was told  police had intercepted phone conversations between the three men and Johnston had arranged the drug importation, which arrived via Ecuador.

Johnston was arrested in Melbourne on Tuesday after arriving in Australia after a 20-day trip to Thailand, with the prosecution alleging he intended to stay for only 10 days.  


A police informant said Johnston had called police from Thailand to tell them he was coming home and officers were waiting for him at the airport.

The prosecution said customs officers conducted a drug test on Johnston, which returned a positive sample for MDMA and cocaine although he was not carrying drugs with him at the time.

The police informant told the court police surveillance showed Johnston had intentions to travel to the United States and Mexico later this month and the two other alleged offenders were his subordinates. 

Johnston's lawyer told Mr Cook he had "come back to face the music" and the syndicate showed no evidence of sophisticated planning, describing their importation as "amateur hour". 

Police transcriptions of telephone conversations between Johnston and McCauley on August 27 detail Johnston was nervous near police and had stored drugs in vitamin containers.

"I was walking back into the airport and a cop comes up and goes MATE (sic). My heart sank. He said pick up that smoke and put it in the bin," said Johnston.  

According to the transcript, Johnston told McCauley on August 31 the drugs would be sent to his address but McCauley said the package could go to his grandmother's house in O'Connor.

The package, which was said to contain documents, arrived in Sydney before being transported to Fyshwick where Australia Post staff notified police of its arrival. 

The package was tested by AFP Forensic members and then delivered to the O'Connor residence and was accepted by McCauley's grandmother. 

An hour later, McCauley  and Bassingthwaighte were arrested after they picked up the package in a purple Holden ute. 

The prosecution said   Johnston had "a lot of sway over" Bassingthwaighte and McCauley and had been in charge of organising the importation and pricing of the drugs.

Johnston's defence lawyer told the court there was no evidence the accused had behaved violently or used "stand-over tactics" to influence Bassingthwaighte and McCauley.

He said Johnston was aware he was under police surveillance and would adhere to any bail conditions imposed by the court.  

Mr Cook said there was no doubt the case against Johnston was strong and he faced serious charges.

Johnston's bail arrangements require him to report to police three times a week, not contact Bassingthwaighte or McCauley, surrender his passport to authorities, and refrain from taking drugs.

He will appear before the ACT Magistrates Court on December 19 and faces a maximum penalty of 25 years' jail.