Bastion Point-Russian sailor cocaine trial: Drug dealing unimaginable for ambitious sailor, lawyer says

There’s a Titanic-sized hole in the Crown’s Bastion Point cocaine smuggling case, a Russian sailor’s lawyer says.

Aleksandr Cherushev’s defence counsel today said the mariner loved life on the high seas and would never risk his career, family, or life to be a drug courier.

Polish men Patryk Lukasz Lukasik and Ryszard Wilk, along with Cherushev, have pleaded not guilty at the High Court in Auckland to importing cocaine.

Charges of conspiracy to import ecstasy were thrown out on Monday morning but the men remain on trial for other charges.

The Poles on Monday both elected not to call or give evidence but the 35-year-old Russian chose otherwise.

The Crown has claimed Cherushev imported around 4kg of cocaine as chief officer on Discovery Bay, a container ship arriving from Ecuador.

The court today heard Cherushev, of Kaliningrad, had a daughter aged 5 and a wife he married seven years ago.

Defence counsel Ron Mansfield said Cherushev, as chief officer on the ship Discovery Bay, was second-in-command and earning about US$6500 (NZ$9069) a month.

But his salary would have risen 38 per cent if he became a master or skipper. That career goal and supporting family was Cherushev’s focus, Mansfield said.

He said Cherushev had nothing to do with drugs, and anybody on Discovery Bay could have sent supposedly incriminating drug-related messages which police intercepted.

Cherushev was arrested at the port of Nelson in 2019, more than two years after prosecutors claim the cocaine arrived in New Zealand.

“He was plucked from his daily life as a seafarer and has waited since to clear his name,” Mansfield said.

“He was then placed in a dock with others who he did not know and still does not know.”

Mansfield said the Crown theorised that Cherushev must have been involved, but jurors would see “gaping holes” between that theory and the evidence.

“He would not risk his life, which he loved .. .to become a courier for some international syndicate.”

Cherushev gave evidence with help from a Russian interpreter.

“He speaks English perfectly well as far as basic conversational English is concerned,” the defence lawyer said.

“The reality is that his accent is very heavy. Lovely, but very heavy.”

Jurors heard allegedly drug-related messages sent from the ship were in English but Mansfield said everyone on board would have spoken some English.

He said the police National Organised Crime Group’s Detective Sergeant John Sowter previously described local ports as “leaking like sieves”.

But Mansfield said many ports, especially in South America, had much tighter security than might be imagined.

Jurors were told Cherushev left school at 17 for maritime college and had worked since 2010 for shipping company Seatrade.

The court heard Cherushev would spend four months at sea, then four on land, and only learned at short notice which ship he’d be assigned to and who’d be on board with him.

“It was very hard work,” Cherushev told the court.

“And I knew that I was consciously away from my family but I was quite proud to know that this work will allow me to provide for my family’s good future.”‘

Mansfield asked if Cherushev during voyages had anything to do with freight on the vessel and the seaman replied:”Nyet.

Jurors heard an engineer or mechanic on board would attend to any fault with cargo, and Cherushev mostly worked on the ship’s bridge.

The court previously heard police found directions on a Signal messaging app to an alleged drug stash at Auckland’s Bastion Pt.

The Signal app was from the phone of Ralph Wilk, the son of Ryszard Wilk.

Only 3.5g of cocaine was found at Bastion Pt but the Crown alleges the Wilks, Lukasik, and Cherushev were part of a bigger racket.

Jurors have previously heard detectives used covert surveillance, a covert break-in, and combed through data and seized messages to uncover the alleged drug ring.

The trial continues.

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