FALL OF AN EM­PIRE

In­side the $50m de­signer drug ring

Weekend Herald - - Front Page - CHRIS CHASE THEY BE­GAN AROUND THE

Party pills were born at a K Rd bar called Sin­ners. Chris Chase and Lee Vin­cent, two young men on a night out, had a chance 3am en­counter at the Auck­land night­club in 2001. Both were body­builders; they bonded over where to score steroids.

Within min­utes of meet­ing, the pair were plan­ning how to smug­gle “juice” from Thai­land to New Zealand in the mail.

The friends be­came busi­ness part­ners. And busi­ness was good un­til, a few months later, they were charged with sell­ing a pre­scrip­tion medicine with­out a li­cence.

They went back to their day jobs; Vin­cent, an IT con­sul­tant, Chase a male strip­per.

But it wasn’t long un­til the young en­trepreneurs de­cided to push the boundaries of law and sci­ence. Their re­search led them to im­port BZP and TFMPP from over­seas and, by fluke, mix the pow­ders to­gether. The com­bi­na­tion of dopamine (a stim­u­lant) and sero­tonin (a sense of eu­pho­ria) was a per­fect high for those want­ing to party into the wee hours of the morn­ing.

It was like Ec­stasy, but en­tirely above board. Chase and Vin­cent, by ac­ci­dent, had be­come pi­o­neers in the “le­gal high” in­dus­try.

And it made them rich. Un­til one day, re­act­ing to public out­rage, the gov­ern­ment banned BZP.

What hap­pened next is a saga that can only be told now, 10 years on, af­ter myr­iad sup­pres­sion or­ders fell away like domi­noes in the High Court this week. This is a story about sci­ence ex­per­i­ments and a cast of colour­ful char­ac­ters play­ing a risky game of catand-mouse with New Zealand’s drug laws.

A story of “pro­tec­tion” money, clan­des­tine meet­ings and bugged Skype con­ver­sa­tions. Of boxes of cash stacked in the lounge of a pen­sioner’s home in the North Shore, later laun­dered through com­pa­nies in Hong Kong and Thai­land.

Money made from “de­signer drug” pills. Mil­lions and mil­lions of pills. A saga that started with a po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion and ended in prison.

“This was the largest Class-C drug im­por­ta­tion and deal­ing op­er­a­tion that has come be­fore the New Zealand courts,” said Jus­tice Pe­ter Wood­house, “and the largest by a very long way.”

was born Christo­pher Alan Roger D’Aguiar in Novem­ber 1973. The el­dest son of im­mi­grants from Bar­ba­dos. He grew up on Auck­land’s North Shore.

He left Glen­field Col­lege when he was 16 to set up a lunch bar at the lo­cal gym where he was train­ing.

An in­jury stopped D’Aguiar from play­ing bas­ket­ball, so he turned his at­ten­tion to body­build­ing.

“I be­came kind of ob­sessed with it, I guess you could say,” D’Aguiar said later.

The busi­ness deal was sim­ple, no lease or con­tract. The gym wasn’t us­ing the space and a lunch bar added value for cus­tomers. The teenage D’Aguiar bought the equip­ment, or­gan­ised sig­nage, made deals with food sup­pli­ers and pre­pared healthy meals with his mother.

Be­fore long, he went back to school. The lunch bar was hard work and D’Aguiar re­alised he wanted a pro­fes­sion. An av­er­age stu­dent be­fore quit­ting school, D’Aguiar re­turned to achieve an A bur­sary.

Phys­i­cal dis­ci­pline gave him the aca­demic dis­ci­pline to achieve the grades he needed for univer­sity.

“Body­build­ing essen­tially teaches you how to set and achieve goals in a very de­fin­able and vis­i­ble way. Your goal is to lift 50 ki­los six times, you ei­ther achieve that goal or you fail,” D’Aguiar would later say.

“It gave me sort of a sys­tem I could use in any part of my life.”

D’Aguiar en­rolled at the Univer­sity of Auck­land in 1994, start­ing a BSc, but dropped out later in the year. Sci­ence made way for strip­ping. “Ladies would have a lin­gerie type party and if they pur­chased enough dur­ing the course of the party, their prize would be me, essen­tially.”

At the age of 23, af­ter a few years work­ing for agen­cies, D’Aguiar and a few strip­pers banded to­gether. They formed “Men o Men” and D’Aguiar was in charge of book­ings.

“They might want a po­lice­man for in­stance and every­body had a po­lice­man out­fit. A fire­man would be com­mon, my sig­na­ture one was Zorro.” D’Aguiar was still body­build­ing, rep­re­sent­ing New Zealand in in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions and win­ning a na­tional cham­pi­onship.

He met Lee Vin­cent at Sin­ners, a bar on Auck­land’s in­fa­mous party strip Karanga­hape Rd, and they went into busi­ness to­gether.

They formed VC Sports Sci­ence Ltd in 2001 af­ter a busi­ness op­por­tu­nity, as D’Aguiar de­scribed it, pre­sented it­self one night in town. And D’Aguiar changed his name to Chase.

“A friend of ours had this white pow­der with him,” Chase said. “What piqued my in­ter­est is he said it was le­gal, which back then was a very novel con­cept.

“A drug that got you high, was a stim­u­lant, and it was le­gal. So I saw a busi­ness op­por­tu­nity there.

“We took it that night, we loved it, we went out and had a good time.” Chase and Lee Vin­cent con­tacted the US web­site that had sup­plied the white pow­der to their friend.

It was ben­zylpiper­azine, or BZP. The stim­u­lant was com­pletely un­reg­u­lated in New Zealand. For an even bet­ter high, Vin­cent’s re­search found BZP was mixed over­seas with tri­flu­o­romethylphenylpiper­azine, or TFMPP.

The pills gave users a eu­phoric high sim­i­lar to MDMA, bet­ter known as Ec­stasy, but were com­pletely le­gal.

sell­ing by “word of mouth“to friends and as­so­ciates; open-minded peo­ple, as Chase de­scribed them, who were into the party or rave scene.

“I had no doubt that our prod­ucts would have com­peted with Ec­stasy.” Each pill cost 12 cents to make; Chase and Vin­cent would sell batches of 1000 for $30,000 on credit. If they weren’t paid, it only cost them $120.

Im­por­tantly, they never told their cus­tomers the se­cret in­gre­di­ents, BZP or TTMPP; only that the pills were le­gal.

They de­lib­er­ately kept it un­der­ground, fear­ing the Gov­ern­ment would ban BZP, or com­peti­tors would start sell­ing ri­val prod­ucts.

The first ri­val to ap­pear on the scene was Matt Bow­den, who went on to be­come the face of the “le­gal high” in­dus­try in the reg­u­la­tion de­bate.

Chase said Bow­den, whose rocker alias is Star Boy, used the same com­pounds but a dif­fer­ent busi­ness model. He was pro­duc­ing cap­sules in smaller quan­ti­ties, which were pack­aged, mar­keted and sold in adult stores.

Then Lo­gan Mil­lar came along. He was a cus­tomer of Chase and Vin­cent and wanted to know whether BZP was the in­gre­di­ent.

“It was ob­vi­ous he knew that it was, and he kept ask­ing me where he could get BZP,” Chase said.

While Bow­den was sell­ing cap­sules in sex shops, Chase said Mil­lar be­came the first per­son to openly sell BZP and TFMPP “party pills“, around 2004.

His two prod­ucts were known as Charge and Rap­ture.

“Lo­gan put them through dairies, he ad­ver­tised them on the ra­dio, had foot­path signs out­side the dairies,” said Chase. “I thought it was quite ir­re­spon­si­ble re­ally, I thought it would prob­a­bly bring about a ban­ning of BZP and TFMPP.”

But it didn’t. In­stead, more com­peti­tors flooded the mar­ket and the prices be­came cheaper and cheaper.

This was hurt­ing sales for Chase and Vin­cent, who were sup­ply­ing their pills, un­mar­keted, in bulk.

The re­al­i­sa­tion that BZP was not go­ing to be banned any­time soon dawned on Chase and Vin­cent, and they de­cided to en­ter the re­tail game. Lon­don Un­der­ground was born.

In­stead of com­pet­ing with their ri­vals, Bow­den, Mil­lar and Matt Wie­lenga — the man who would later cre­ate Kronic — Lon­don Un­der­ground fo­cused on cre­at­ing a pre­mium prod­uct. One tablet em­bossed with the Union Jack, and mar­keted as JAX sold for $30.

At first, Chase was a one-man band. He pressed, pack­aged and sold the pills him­self, go­ing door-to-door to con­vince re­tail­ers.

By the end of the first year, Lon­don Un­der­ground had a turnover of $1.1 mil­lion. They started hir­ing staff, tweaked the BZP and TFMPP doses to mar­ket dif­fer­ent pills — Bolts, Devils, Smi­leys — en­ergy drink Ammo, and cre­ated Spice, New Zealand’s first syn­thetic cannabis. Busi­ness kept boom­ing. At its peak, Lon­don Un­der­ground was sell­ing le­gal highs in 300 stores across the coun­try.

But un­flat­ter­ing sto­ries about the ef­fects of BZP — which was il­le­gal in the United States and some parts of Aus­tralia — started ap­pear­ing in the me­dia in 2004.

Shortly af­ter­wards, “party pills” be­came R18. But the age re­stric­tion wasn’t enough to pla­cate crit­ics.

Con­cern from the public, as well as pres­sure from the liquor in­dus­try, led to a com­plete ban in April 2008.

BZP was clas­si­fied as a ClassC con­trolled drug, which car­ries a max­i­mum sen­tence of eight years in prison. The party was over.

But not for Lon­don Un­der­ground. They had al­ready found the new BZP.

same time as BZP be­came il­le­gal in New Zealand, there was a world­wide short­age of Ec­stasy.

The drug was hugely pop­u­lar in the dance scene; the key in­gre­di­ent methylene­dioxymetham­phetamine — MDMA — well known for pro­duc­ing greater em­pa­thy and eu­pho­ria.

There was no dirty stigma with E, no nee­dles to in­ject or pipe to smoke; just easy-to-take pills, em­bossed with trendy sym­bols — red Nike, blue McDon­ald’s, green Su­per­man.

But the drug of choice in the night­clubs across the world had hum­ble ori­gins in the jun­gle of Cam­bo­dia.

MDMA is made from saf­role oil, dis­tilled by boil­ing the roots and bark of a rare tree, mreah prov mh­nom. For cen­turies, lo­cals ex­tracted saf­role oil for tra­di­tional reme­dies on a small scale. But when the global de­mand for MDMA peaked, so did saf­role oil.

The dam­age to the en­vi­ron­ment was so great, Cam­bo­dia banned the felling of trees and pro­duc­tion of oil.

In turn, clan­des­tine oil dis­til­leries cropped up in the pro­tected forests.

Raids stran­gled the flow of saf­role and suf­fo­cated the pro­duc­tion of MDMA. But the Ec­stasy drought didn’t last long. Clever chemists switched from MDMA to mephedrone, le­gal in most places around the world at the time.

Tech­ni­cally called 4-methyl­meth­cathi­none, or 4-MMC, mephedrone was bet­ter known as “meow” and sold openly in Aus­tralia and the UK.

It was one of a new gen­er­a­tion of “le­gal highs“, or psy­choac­tive sub­stances, man­u­fac­tured in lab­o­ra­to­ries in China and or­dered on­line.

As soon as one was banned, the molec­u­lar struc­ture was tweaked and tin­kered with. A new recre­ational drug was born to stay ahead of the

More than six years af­ter Op­er­a­tion Ark tar­geted a $50m de­signer drug ring, the Week­end Her­ald can re­veal the story of Lon­don Un­der­ground. Among the char­ac­ters were a Break­ing Bad-style sci­en­tist, a banker and a busi­ness part­ner in Thai­land. Jared Sav­age ex­plains how party pills started in New Zealand.

law­mak­ers. Then another. And another. In a re­port by the Euro­pean Mon­i­tor­ing Cen­tre for Drugs and Drug Ad­dic­tion, the num­ber of new psy­choac­tive sub­stances dis­cov­ered each year peaked at 57 in 2012 — more than one a week. Ten years ear­lier, there were none.

At the height of the mephedrone boom, one of the big­gest ex­porters to Bri­tain was CEC Chem­i­cals in China.

Its web­site had a long list of de­signer drug com­pounds, most ex­plic­itly listed as le­gal al­ter­na­tives to Class-A drugs such as metham­phetamine and co­caine.

In a UK news­pa­per sting, chief ex­ec­u­tive Eric Chang was de­scribed as a rich young man who wore de­signer clothes, drove an ex­pen­sive SUV and lived in a lux­ury villa.

As soon as a sub­stance be­came banned, as mephedrone later was in the UK, Chang promised Bri­tish jour­nal­ists pos­ing as po­ten­tial buy­ers he would sup­ply “new le­gal stuff ”.

“This is our tech­ni­cal know how.” the Daily Mail quoted Chang as say­ing. “It can’t pos­si­bly be banned yet be­cause it was only in­vented a few months ago.” Chang was des­ig­nated a drug king­pin by the US trea­sury in 2014. And it was Chang that Lon­don Un­der­ground bought mephedrone from.

This was the new BZP that Chris Chase was look­ing for.

THIS TIME, Lon­don Un­der­ground did not mar­ket the new “le­gal high”. In­stead they kept un­der the radar.

They sold mil­lions of pills, dis­creetly, to trusted clients — what they re­ferred to as “the af­ter­mar­ket” or “cus­tom man­u­fac­tur­ing”.

The clan­des­tine na­ture of the busi­ness, ac­cord­ing to Chase, was to stop his­tory re­peat­ing. They didn’t want com­peti­tors to dis­cover the se­cret in­gre­di­ent, me­dia to write neg­a­tive sto­ries about the lat­est “le­gal high”, or the gov­ern­ment to ban it.

The clan­des­tine na­ture of the busi­ness, ac­cord­ing to the po­lice, was be­cause Lon­don Un­der­ground was a crim­i­nal drug en­ter­prise.

The Auck­land drug squad be­gan a covert in­quiry, Op­er­a­tion Ark, which in­cluded in­ter­cept­ing phone calls and plant­ing lis­ten­ing de­vices.

Con­ver­sa­tions were guarded, sales con­ducted in cash.

This was in 2010. Vin­cent had moved to Thai­land. He was in charge of plac­ing or­ders of mephedrone with Chang, through his com­pany Profit Mark. The white pow­der was sealed in foil pack­ets, marked as “cor­ro­sion in­hibitor” and later “tau­rine” to avoid the sus­pi­cion of Cus­toms and sent to sci­en­tist at a New Zealand cos­metic busi­ness.

Dr Andy Lavrent, with a doc­tor­ate in chem­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing, was the per­fect cover. Like the lead char­ac­ter in

Break­ing Bad, Lavrent gave sci­en­tific advice on the mer­its of the var­i­ous com­pounds.

The parcels of mephedrone — or what they thought was 4-MMC — were passed to Grant Pe­tersen, a DJ, who pressed the pills for Chase. Another caught press­ing pills in his rat poi­son fac­tory was Jeremy Hamish Kerr, who went on to black­mail Fon­terra with a 1080 threat.

Nearly 255kg of pow­der was im­ported over an 18-month pe­riod; enough to make al­most 1.3 mil­lion tablets. The prof­its were enor­mous. Each pill cost around $1 to make. Th old, at whole­sale, to deal­ers like body­builder Jamie Cameron at prices be­tween $17 and $23 a pill. On be­half of Lon­don Un­der­ground, Cameron was pay­ing a crim­i­nal gang $10,000 a week to be left alone.

ON THE street, the pills sold for be­tween $30 and $40. Car­tons of cash were taken by Lon­don Un­der­ground staff to the Taka­puna home of Diane Ashby, Vin­cent’s mother.

Bun­dles of $20, $50 and $100 notes filled the car­tons, taped shut and stacked be­hind a chair in the lounge of Ashby’s home. Ev­ery so of­ten, “couri­ers“would ar­rive to col­lect the boxes and take the cash to Hong Kong where it was banked into ac­counts con­trolled by Vin­cent.

When the po­lice raided Chase’s $3 mil­lion Coatesville home in Novem­ber 2011, they found a Google spread­sheet la­belled “The Vil­lage”.

It recorded the quan­tity of drugs, move­ment of pow­der and pills, cash re­ceipts and bank trans­ac­tions.

About $11m was de­posited into the Hong Kong com­pa­nies con­trolled by Vin­cent, ac­cord­ing to “The Vil­lage”.

Op­er­a­tion Ark made another dis­cov­ery with the ar­rest of Chase and 22 others.

ESR test­ing of the pow­der Lon­don Un­der­ground thought was mephedrone, or 4-MMC, was ac­tu­ally methe­drone, or 4-MEC.

Like mephedrone, methe­drone was a syn­thetic drug with a molec­u­lar struc­ture which mim­icked meth­cathi­none, a Class-B drug. Nei­ther 4-MMC or 4-MEC is specif­i­cally listed as a con­trolled drug.

But the po­lice case was they were ana­logues, or “sub­stan­tially sim­i­lar” to a con­trolled drug, and there­fore Class-C drugs.

Chase was adamant his pills were not ana­logues. While on bail await­ing trial, he went back to work.

One of his cus­tomers, Allen Stub­bing­ton, had es­caped de­tec­tion dur­ing the Ark in­ves­ti­ga­tion de­spite pur­chas­ing mil­lions of dol­lars’ worth of pills. With his busi­ness model in tat­ters, Chase en­listed Stub­bing­ton, a fel­low body­builder, to take charge of press­ing the pills in New Zealand.

By en­crypted email and Skype, Chase was still talk­ing with Vin­cent who was free in Thai­land. Vin­cent or­dered new pow­ders, in­clud­ing al­pha-PVP, to be shipped from China to New Zealand, picked up by Stub­bing­ton and pressed into pills.

The money was han­dled by “The Banker”, Craig Wil­liams, a Bri­tish cit­i­zen liv­ing in an apart­ment in the Metropo­lis tower in Auck­land.

Mil­lions of dol­lars were shifted back to Vin­cent in Thai­land and, to pro­tect Chase, Wil­liams took over the day-to-day tasks. Lon­don Un­der­ground was back in busi­ness.

the new party pills didn’t stay un­der the radar for long.

In a sec­ond po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Op­er­a­tion Green­stone, Chase, Wil­liams, Stub­bing­ton and others were ar­rested in Septem­ber 2012.

The group had been com­mu­ni­cat­ing through en­crypted email or Skype — which can­not be in­ter­cepted like cell­phone con­ver­sa­tions — but de­tec­tives had planted a lis­ten­ing de­vice in Wil­liams’ apart­ment.

They also found Stub­bing­ton’s metic­u­lous record-keep­ing of the drug busi­ness.

Stub­bing­ton later cut a deal for a lighter prison sen­tence. He agreed to give ev­i­dence and was star wit­ness at the Op­er­a­tion Ark trial in 2015.

Now 60, he told the jury he sold an­abolic steroids in the body­build­ing scene and was in­tro­duced to party pills.

Through those cir­cles, he met Chase, who agreed to sup­ply him. All their trans­ac­tions were in cash. “I was led to be­lieve there was noth­ing banned in them, so you know there’s noth­ing wrong with them, so they’d be le­gal,” Stub­bing­ton told the jury. “But deep down we knew that they were il­le­gal.”

Le­gal highs or il­licit sub­stances? Clan­des­tine crim­i­nals or pro­tect­ing in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty from com­peti­tors, or a gov­ern­ment that might change the law? The trial was a test case and hinged on the def­i­ni­tion of what an ana­logue was.

ESR sci­en­tist Jen­nifer Si­b­ley gave ev­i­dence the chem­i­cal struc­tures of 4-MMC and 4-MEC were “sub­stan­tially sim­i­lar” to meth­cathi­none.

A struc­ture “sub­stan­tially sim­i­lar” made them ana­logues un­der the Mis­use of Drugs Act, ac­cord­ing to Crown prose­cu­tor David John­stone, and there­fore il­le­gal.

There was no ar­gu­ment, phar­ma­co­log­i­cally speak­ing; the Lon­don Un­der­ground cus­tomers got a high sim­i­lar to banned drugs like Ec­stasy But there was a le­gal chal­lenge as to whether 4-MMC and 4-MEC were ana­logues.

Chase’s de­fence team, led by Ron Mans­field, said the le­gal def­i­ni­tion of ana­logue was un­clear.

In ev­i­dence, Chase said he had pored over the Mis­use of Drugs Act and was un­able to find a def­i­ni­tion of “struc­ture”. In­stead, he pointed out a clause that said an ana­logue “means any sub­stance, such as sub­stances” in a par­tic­u­lar list that had a struc­ture sub­stan­tially sim­i­lar to an il­le­gal drug. There were six drug fam­i­lies on the list: am­phet­a­mine, pethi­dine, phen­cy­cli­dine, fen­tanyl, methaqualone and dimethyl­tryptamine.

On Chase’s read­ing of the law, 4-MEC and 4-MMC were not mem­bers of those drug fam­i­lies and there­fore could not be ana­logues. He re­lied on advice from two lawyers — both of whom were later struck off — to back up his in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

When Chase was ad­vised by sci­en­tists that a com­pound was likely to be a con­trolled drug ana­logue, he dis­missed con­cerns by raising the advice that suited him. He had found a loop­hole; or thought he had.

“Get out of jail” cards was how Crown prose­cu­tor David John­stone de­scribed the favourable le­gal opin­ions to Chase, in a par­tic­u­larly heated piece of cross-ex­am­i­na­tion.

Chase: “It seems it is your job to read the law a dif­fer­ent way.”

John­stone: “How much money have you made from read­ing the law your way?” Chase: “Prob­a­bly about $15 mil­lion.”

The High Court trial, in front of Jus­tice Wood­house, dragged on for four months. At the end of the ev­i­dence, dozens of charges linked to some sub­stances Lon­don Un­der­ground sold were thrown out. But the jury was clear on one thing: 4-MEC was an ana­logue of meth­cathi­none.

So was 4-MMC (which is what Lon­don Un­der­ground thought they were sell­ing).

Sen­tenc­ing

Chase to 10 years in prison, Jus­tice Wood­house said the street value of pills sold was nearly $50m.

“This was the largest Class-C drug im­por­ta­tion and deal­ing op­er­a­tion that has come be­fore the New Zealand courts,” said Jus­tice Wood­house, “the largest by a very long way. Your role in this of­fend­ing was piv­otal . . . Lon­don Un­der­ground, at least in New Zealand, was you.”

THE NEW Zealand pi­o­neer of party pills was now in prison, but Op­er­a­tion Ark was far from over. Chase and his fel­low de­fen­dants tried to over­turn their con­vic­tions in the Court of Ap­peal, then when that failed, the Supreme Court. Their chal­lenge was two-fold. They again ar­gued an ana­logue could only be a “sub­stance”, such as “the six drug fam­i­lies listed in the drugs law”. This was thrown out by the Supreme Court be­cause of two words. “The phrase ‘such as’ . . . makes it clear that the op­er­a­tion of the def­i­ni­tion is not con­fined to those sub­stances,” said the Supreme Court. “Any be­lief to the con­trary on the part of Mr Chase or the other ap­pel­lants was wrong.”

But the par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stances of Op­er­a­tion

Ark raised an im­por­tant point of law in re­gards to mens rea, or a “guilty mind”.

To prove mens rea in most drugs cases, the Crown must show the de­fen­dants had knowl­edge of “iden­tity” or “il­le­gal­ity”. For ex­am­ple, there must be ev­i­dence they know the iden­tity of a sub­stance — say metham­phetamine or cannabis — even if they didn’t know it was il­le­gal. Or, they do not know the iden­tity of the sub­stance, but know it is il­le­gal.

One end of the mens rea spec­trum is com­plete guilty knowl­edge. The other is in­no­cent be­lief.

How­ever, the Supreme Court said this ap­proach did not work well with drug ana­logues, be­cause whether a com­pound was il­le­gal was not a mat­ter of law, but of fact for a jury to de­cide whether it is “sub­stan­tially sim­i­lar” to a con­trolled drug.

The in­ten­tion of the ana­logue regime was to stop skilled chemists or busi­ness peo­ple de­lib­er­ately skirt­ing the boundaries of the law.

This in­ten­tion would be de­feated, said the Supreme Court, if the Crown had to prove some­one had com­plete “guilty knowl­edge”. How could some­one know a sub­stance was il­le­gal, be­fore a jury had de­cided that it was an ana­logue?

In­stead, in the unique con­text of ana­logues, the Supreme Court es­tab­lished a mid­way point for mens rea.

This was “reck­less­ness”; where some­one was aware a sub­stance might be a con­trolled drug, and whether they acted like a law-abid­ing cit­i­zen try­ing their best to com­ply with the law.

In the case of Op­er­a­tion Ark, Chase knew 4-MMC was “sub­stan­tially sim­i­lar” to meth­cathi­none. That’s why Chase asked for le­gal advice, the Supreme Court said. His be­lief that 4-MMC was not il­le­gal was based on a mis­take in law, which is not a de­fence.

“A strik­ing fea­ture of the case is the ab­sence of any sug­ges­tion from any­one deny­ing the sub­stan­tial sim­i­lar­ity of the chem­i­cal struc­tures of meth­cathi­none and 4-MMC,” the Supreme Court wrote. “Rather, the over­whelm­ing im­pres­sion is that Mr Chase and the others thought that they had iden­ti­fied what might be a loop­hole in the law (the drug fam­i­lies mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion) and were ex­ploit­ing it.”

THE SUPREME Court rul­ing knocked over cases like domi­noes. Nearly three years had passed since Chase was con­victed and sev­eral other Op­er­a­tion Ark and Green­stone tri­als were on hold.

The Supreme Court find­ings ended his ap­peal rights and, essen­tially, re­moved the le­gal de­fences many would have planned to rely on. More than $11m of as­sets have been for­feited to the Crown, in­clud­ing prop­erty be­long­ing to Vin­cent — who is still liv­ing in Thai­land.

One by one they pleaded guilty to Class-C drugs charges and were sen­tenced this year, un­til only Craig Wil­liams and Chris Chase were left. Wil­liams, “The Banker”, has been on bail since Septem­ber 2012. He pleaded guilty to money laun­der­ing $1.4m and was sen­tenced this week to 12 months’ home de­ten­tion. Be­side him in the High Court at Auck­land was Chris Chase. He was 38 when first ar­rested in Novem­ber 2011, now he’s 44. For more than six years, his iden­tity has been kept se­cret to pro­tect his busi­ness in­ter­ests, as well as his fair trial rights.

His sup­pres­sion or­der fell away as Jus­tice Ge­of­frey Ven­ning sen­tenced him on the Op­er­a­tion Green­stone charges laid while he was bail. The Chief High Court Judge ef­fec­tively added an ex­tra two years and 6 months in prison, on top of the 10 years Chase re­ceived for Op­er­a­tion Ark.

“You ran a so­phis­ti­cated, com­mer­cial op­er­a­tion. By deal­ing in drugs, you took a busi­ness risk and now have to pay the price.” Per­haps Chase’s lawyer Mans­field put it best when quot­ing the The Clash hit in ref­er­ence to his client: “I fought the law and the law won.”

This is our tech­ni­cal know how . . . It can’t pos­si­bly be banned yet be­cause it was only in­vented a few months ago.

“Drug king­pin” Eric Chang

Chris Chase leav­ing Auck­land Dis­trict Court in 2011.

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