Truck driver found not guilty over 400kg cocaine plot
On the same day a plane loaded with cocaine crashed in Papua New Guinea, Osman El-Houli was arrested over an alleged $141 million drug importation plot.
Likened to a movie script, Mr El-Houli was accused of driving interstate to collect more than 400kg of pure cocaine delivered by a "black flight" from PNG.
In a Hollywood ending for the Melbourne truck driver, he walked out of Brisbane Supreme Court on Friday with jubilant family and supporters after a jury found him not guilty.
Hired by a man he knew as The Professor, the 35-year-old told police he drove 3000km from Melbourne to collect "bags of cash" in July 2020.
But after arriving in far north Queensland, Mr El-Houli was arrested by heavily armed police when his truck was found parked near Mareeba.
It was alleged he was hired to collect almost half a tonne of cocaine, with concealments cut in plasterboard discovered in his truck along with an encrypted phone.
The drugs never arrived after a plane bound for Mareeba crashed attempting to take off at a remote PNG airstrip the day of Mr El-Houli's arrest, court was told.
It was believed the operation was run by a syndicate consisting of a Colombian group and Melbourne Mafia, the jury heard.
"You will hear effectively a lot of evidence which you may well in fact think could well be the script of some American movie," defence barrister Tony Kimmins said.
Mr Kimmins told the jury the courier for a prior "black flight" from PNG was in custody in July 2020.
He suggested the syndicate hired a "dupe" courier, a cleanskin who would not raise suspicion at COVID-restricted border controls.
Mr El-Houli told police someone called The Professor hired him for $10,000 to deliver plasterboard to Queensland but he did not know him well.
Mr Kimmins described The Professor as a master criminal involved in the international drug scene, a "confidence trickster" who he suggested duped Mr El-Houli into taking the last-minute interstate job.
Mr El-Houli was a devout Muslim of good character who hated drugs and would not "sell his soul" to be a cocaine courier, the lawyer said.
"(For) a lousy 10 grand was he ... prepared to give a lifetime of decency and values to betray his religion, his community, his parents to become part of an international drug-smuggling operation?" Mr Kimmins asked the jury.
After initially being tasked to deliver plasterboard, Mr El-Houli told police he was given a different job by The Professor while on the way to Queensland.
Mr El-Houli said he was told he was now picking up "bags of cash" and that concealments had been cut in the plasterboard loaded in his truck for their transportation back to Melbourne.
The truckie told police he asked The Professor if there were drugs involved with the new job and was told: "No, money".
Crown prosecutor Daniel Caruana said Mr El-Houli would have known "deep down" that he was collecting drugs after being given an encrypted phone for a last-minute interstate trip transporting concealed bags delivered by plane.
"What do you think you could possibly be collecting ... you are being asked to collect drugs," he said.
The jury took about four hours to find Mr El-Houli not guilty of attempting to possess an unlawfully imported border-controlled drug.
Outside court, Mr El-Houli conceded he was worried before the verdict but said his faith helped him pull through.
"Glory be to God," he said as he left, with family and friends at one stage lifting him on their shoulders.