Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Opium package could be one of many: Crown

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THE load of opium mailed to Canada bound for Winnipeg last week could be just one of several other related shipments, a court has heard.

It was disclosed Monday several packages have been uncovered this year as part of an RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency joint probe into international opium smuggling.

"Several other opium packages that appear to be related have been intercepted in 2013," federal Crown attorney Raegan Rankin told court.

Rankin made the comments in a bail hearing for a city mother of four arrested late last week on suspicion she and an ex-partner conspired to import and traffic 840 grams of opium found hidden in a package from eastern Europe addressed to an Alexander Avenue home.

The street value of the drug, found concealed in a picture frame, is estimated at between $68,000 and $85,000, provincial court Judge Fred Sandhu heard.

"This might not be the only box," Rankin alleged in opposing Patricia Gauthier's release. "There might be a number of parcels either anticipated or on their way."

Gauthier, 44, and Hussein Khalilzadeh Nikbin, 47, were arrested Friday. They are presumed innocent. Nikbin also goes by the name Kevin Anderson, having legally changed his name in 1993 and then changed it back to Nikbin at a later date, Rankin said.

The unusual investigation began Sept. 17 after CBSA agents seized a package from Turkey at a Montreal mail-sorting plant.

According to the Crown, the package was addressed to a "Kven Anders" at a Manitoba Housing side-by-side rented by Gauthier. The packaging also featured a British Columbia phone number, court heard.

Mounties then kicked into action a covert surveillance operation, which included wiretaps and tracking devices. Over a course of days, police saw a vehicle with B.C. plates come and go from the inner-city home. They also monitored phone calls in which a male suspect speaks with a mysterious Toronto-based connection named "Toronto."

The Crown alleges Gauthier and Nikbin had "a discussion about how his parcel is late arriving in Winnipeg," that "Toronto told him not to worry if it's a little bit late," said Rankin. "We probably shouldn't be talking about this over the phone," Gauthier replied, according to Rankin.

Friday, police set up a "controlled delivery" of a Canada Post package notification card to Gauthier's home. Soon after, she and Nikbin drove to a drugstore to fetch the package and she was ferried home, Rankin told Sandhu. Nikbin was arrested shortly after, followed by Gauthier.

Each accused offered conflicting statements to police, said Rankin. Gauthier told investigators she didn't know anything about opium and thought the package contained counterfeit cash, Sandhu heard. "Her story appears to be: 'I knew there was something illegal in the box, but not the illegal thing that you found in the box,' " Rankin said. Nikbin said he thought the box contained clothing from Turkey meant for relatives, she added.

The Crown lost its bid to keep Gauthier in custody. Neither she nor Nikbin have criminal histories.

Defence lawyer Candace Olson didn't have to say much to secure her release after Sandhu offered his assessment of the Crown's case against Gauthier.

"It's already a pretty weak case in terms of likelihood of convictions," Sandhu said, adding he felt it was "mainly circumstantial."

 

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 1, 2013 B1

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