A Bungendore landscaper who tried to import $144 million worth of cocaine claims a client dubbed "the mysterious coffee drinker" enticed him to bring it into the country with the lure of a "free" excavator.
Adam Phillip Hunter's version of how he plotted to bring the machine stuffed full of drugs to Australia for organised crime figures with codenames including "Bilderberger" can now be revealed.
Hunter, 35, is staring down the prospect of life behind bars after he was busted at his Bungendore Landscape Supplies yard starting to remove 384kg of what he thought was cocaine from the hydraulic arm of the excavator in July 2019.
Authorities had earlier intercepted the second-hand machine upon its arrival from South Africa and substituted the drugs for an inert substance.
Hunter, who pleaded guilty last year to a charge of attempting to import a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug, faced the NSW District Court for a sentence hearing on Wednesday.
From a remote room at Goulburn's jail, he described how his business was struggling financially in the lead-up to his arrest.
Hunter said a client he regularly caught up with for coffee knew about these difficulties prior to the unnamed man turning up one day and seeing that Hunter was looking online for machinery.
The landscaper said this man told him he knew of an excavator that might be of interest overseas, but Hunter initially expressed reservations about the price.
"He [then] said there was something concealed in the machine and I'd probably get the machine for nothing at the end of it," Hunter said.
The 35-year-old told the court he did not ask what was inside, but he assumed it would be illicit drugs.
"[The client] told me that he knew people who were trying to get a machine into Australia and needed a legitimate business as an avenue for that," Hunter said.
Hunter therefore contacted the seller in South Africa and scraped together enough money to buy the excavator.
The landscaper said the client, described by Judge Andrew Colefax as "the mysterious coffee drinker", gave him an encrypted phone at some point before the digger reached these shores.
Hunter told the court he believed that once the machine arrived, he would hire it out to the people listed as contacts on the device and they would "do what they had to do" to get what was concealed inside. He would then get the excavator back and invoice these people for what it had cost him.
He claimed he then wanted to use the 20-tonne machine, which he would have effectively acquired for free, to conduct legitimate business.
But Hunter told the court that plan went "out the window" when the excavator he had expected to be "fully refurbished" was delivered to his yard in a state of disrepair.
He said he texted "the Ciphr guys", referring to contacts on the encrypted phone, to tell them he was "pissed off" and that the machine could not be hired out as planned because "the starter motor was buggered".
Hunter claimed these unidentified crime figures proposed sending some people to his landscaping yard to get the concealed goods, but he rejected this idea.
"I didn't like the sound of that because I didn't know who these guys were or what they were capable of," he told the court. "That's when I was told I'd have to cut into the machine."
Hunter said he was then informed the machine held "bricks of cocaine", but he did not know how many or what they were worth.
He said he was told through the Ciphr, on which he had been given the name "GHOST", that he would also receive $50,000 if he retrieved them from inside the hydraulic arm and left them for someone to collect.
The 35-year-old told the court the main instructions came from a person referred to as "Bilderberger", and court documents show other participants in a group chat included "Notorious" and "Kaynen".
Hunter grew visibly distraught at one stage as he described the realities of jail, having been held on remand ever since his arrest.
He said he felt "terrible" about having been involved in drugs because "97 per cent" of inmates seemed to be addicted to them, which he thought was "disgusting".
"I lost everything because of my decisions," Hunter said, choking back tears. "I wouldn't wish this upon anyone."
The case returns to court on August 4.
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