A Malaysian mother and daughter duo spent four months in jail after being wrongly accused of importing drugs into Australia — even after police knew there were problems with drug identification
In reality, Connie Chong Vun Pui and her daughter Melanie Lim San Yan were only trying to bring over 25kg of brown sugar cane tea, a popular and traditional remedy for an array of ailments in Malaysia that is produced by Chinese brand Jiu Ji Gong (九吉公).
According to Sydney Morning Herald, the women were planning to sell it for a net profit of AUD90 (RM270) per five boxes, but in January, two of their shipments were seized by Australian Border Force (ABF) officers at Sydney Airport.
The tea was wrongly identified as amphetamines.
Pinning down the brown sugar as illegal drug phenmetrazine, ABF officials followed the shipment address and raided the women's suburb home in the south west of Sydney
The mother and daughter were charged with commercial drug supply, which carries a lifetime prison sentence, and were not granted bail despite ongoing investigations.
The Downing Local Court heard on Tuesday, 16 November, that police knew within weeks that there was a problem with drug identification, but they did not pass this information on to the women's legal team, leaving them behind bars.
The Daily Mail reported that, in April, an ABF officer emailed Bankstown Detective Senior Constable Tara Conaghan to tell her that their laboratory results had determined there were no prohibited substances.
"Mate, in a nutshell, we cannot take from this ABF result that the sample contains or does not contain phenmetrazine," the email read.
The officer said the test had identified phenmetrazine only as the fourth most likely substance contained in the seized products, after sugar, sucrose, and powdered sugar.
Even though Conaghan asked for forensic testing of the samples to be expedited under state police, she could not explain why the mother and daughter were left in jail during the process
Under cross-examination in court, Conaghan remained silent after Chong's barrister Steve Boland questioned her about why the accused were left to sit in jail.
The women were finally released from jail in May, but the charges against them were not withdrawn until August after New South Wales Police finally received their own forensic analysis results.
Chong and Lim are now suing for legal costs, but the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions has refused to pay.
According to 7NEWS, defence lawyer Benjamin Goh said, "It is a gross injustice."
"Two innocent women that have served their time as a result of the police not doing the investigations properly," he added outside of court last Tuesday.
Defence barrister Boland also told the court: "It is open to the Crown to say 'Sorry, we stuffed up and two women went to prison for our dodgy prosecution'."
The case has been adjourned to March next year.
Last year, a Malaysian flight attendant was shown leniency after an Australian court heard why she resorted to trafficking drugs: