6 December 2022

'Don't stress', man told when asking if cocaine-filled excavator could contain drugs

| Albert McKnight
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A screengrab of the x-ray test of the excavator containing 384 packages of cocaine. Photo: Border Force.

The closings of the trial over how almost 300 kg of cocaine had been hidden in an imported excavator bound for Bungendore has heard a man was told “don’t stress” when questioning if the machine could contain “something stupid like heroin”.

The NSW District Court jury trial against Timothy John Engstrom began last month. He has pleaded not guilty to a charge of attempting to possess a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug.

At the opening of the trial, jurors heard that when police intercepted and x-rayed the excavator in 2019, they saw about 384 packages hidden in its boom arm which were found to contain 276 kg of cocaine.

Police replaced the cocaine with an inert substance and sent the machine on its way to Bungendore Landscape Supplies (BLS), a business run by Mr Engstrom and his business partner Adam Hunter.

Mr Engstrom allegedly used an angle grinder to cut into the boom arm before sharing a “fist bump” with Mr Hunter.

During the closing addresses on Monday (5 December), Crown Prosecutor Adam McGrath read out transcripts from the case, including where Mr Engstrom said, “Adam told me he had to get something out of the machine”.

“I said to him, ‘it’s not something stupid like heroin or something like that?’ He said, ‘No, no it’s not, it’s all good, don’t stress’,” Mr Engstrom said.

Mr Engstrom had replied, “That’s good because my father would never speak to me again”.

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When his defence counsel, Mr Smith, gave his closing arguments and raised this comment, he said, “What an extraordinary thing to say if Mr Engstrom is not telling the truth”.

Mr Engstrom had also said Mr Hunter told him he didn’t have to be a part of anything, “simply access the arm then leave the rest to him”.

Mr McGrath said Mr Engstrom admitted cutting the hole into the arm but claimed he hadn’t seen what was inside the machine. He said his role was just to cut a hole and “then go and have a cup of tea”.

But Mr McGrath alleged he got tubs and watched Mr Hunter put items into those tubs.

He also alleged the “fist bump” was a “celebratory action of the two” and evidence of their “exhilaration” over what they were about to obtain.

But when Mr Engstrom was explaining the incident, he claimed he was a person who “regularly fist bumps people”.

Along with the fist bump, Mr Engstrom is also accused of making the comment, “f-k yeah”.

Mr Engstrom argued this was as he was “tired”, but Mr McGrath claimed “that response is not an expression of tiredness” but an expression of “excitement”.

Under questioning from Mr McGrath, Mr Engstrom admitted he could have told Mr Hunter “no”, could have asked him what was inside the machine and that he had “turned a blind eye”. But he maintained that he was unaware there was a risk that the contents could be drugs.

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Mr Smith said Mr Hunter had lied when he told Mr Engstrom the excavator didn’t contain drugs, “and Mr Engstrom believed him”.

He said there was no evidence his client was involved in the purchase of the excavator, that he was aware of its imminent arrival, nor that he knew about the poor condition it was in until it arrived.

Mr Engstrom ultimately wanted to use it in their business, shown by how he had been getting quotes to move it around Canberra, and “wasn’t going to discard it”, Mr Smith said.

Also, Mr Smith said the “unchallenged evidence” of Mr Engstrom was that while he did transfer $30,000 into BLS’s accounts at the request of Mr Hunter, this was as a “cash injection to pay the bills”.

He said while jurors could be “suspicious” that his client was aware of a risk that the excavator could contain drugs, suspicion was not enough to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt.

Judge Gina O’Rouke told jurors she would give her summary of the trial on Tuesday before they begin their deliberations.

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