A Belgian man can return home after a magistrate deemed there wasn’t enough evidence for him to stand trial on allegations he imported ecstasy to Australia in wine bottles.
Prosecutors alleged Ravi Prem Michael Vankerckhove received free flights to Australia from a friend of his sister in exchange for bringing three bottles of wine that had been passed to him by a stranger in a car park.
The 24-year-old was arrested at Melbourne Airport on March 8 this year when Australian Border Force officials discovered the substance in the bottle was actually liquid MDMA.
A French woman who allegedly paid for his tickets, 31-year-old Yamina Daoudi, was on Friday committed to stand trial on four charges of importing a commercial quantity of the drug.
But Magistrate Ross Maxted dropped the single import charge against Mr Vankerckhove.
He said he was unable to exclude all theories consistent with Mr Vankerckhove being innocent.
Prosecutor Shaun Ginsbourg suggested Mr Vankerckhove probably had considered the risk the wine being passed to him was not legitimate on the basis of a warning from his father before he left for the airport.
Mr Vankerckhove’s dad warned him that the people paying for his ticket might expect something in return, and told him “don’t bring anything back that’s illegal”.
“He knows he’s got wine bottles in his bag that have come to him … against a general background that should have rung some alarm bells,” Mr Ginsbourg said.
He also said Mr Vankerckhove admitted it “felt weird” when he met a stranger in a car park to collect the bottles.
But the court was told there was nothing necessarily suspicious about the bottles themselves, and it was conceded even Australian Border Force officials didn’t immediately raise any concerns about the bottles.
Instead it was the fact his passport and ticket had only been arranged a week prior that served as a red flag.
Mr Vankerckhove’s lawyer Joanne Poole successfully argued he may not have been aware of any substantial risk in bringing the bottles to Australia, noting that many people wouldn’t be aware ecstasy even came in a liquid form.
She said he even told police he believed ecstasy came from a plant.
Mr Vankerckhove is free to return to Belgium and Daoudi will stand trial in the County Court.