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Mother And Daughter Spend Months In Prison After Police Mistake Tea For Drugs

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Mother And Daughter Spend Months In Prison After Police Mistake Tea For Drugs

A mother and daughter were jailed for four months in Australia after police mistook tea for drugs.

Vun Pui 'Connie' Chong and her daughter San Yan Melanie Lim had 25kg of brown ginger tea imported to the country.

Vice reports they planned to sell the drink as it's a well-known remedy for period pain in their home country of Malaysia, which would've left them with a profit of around AU$90 (£48).

Credit: 7NEWS
Credit: 7NEWS
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However, their plan was cut short when their tea packets were seized at the airport by Australian Border Force (ABF) officials, who wrongly identified the beverage as amphetamine drug Phenmetrazine.

Heavily-armed police officers then raided Chong and Lim's Sydney home back in January to arrest the pair and charge them with commercial drug supply, an offence which carries a maximum sentence of life behind bars.

Authorities were allegedly made aware of issues with the tests used to identify the substance in the following weeks.

Connie Choo. Credit: Nine News
Connie Choo. Credit: Nine News
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Despite this, the mother and daughter remained locked up for four months without bail and the charges weren't withdrawn until 10 August when New South Wales Police carried out its own forensic analysis.

Sydney's Downing Local Court heard that the ABF used a presumptive 'hazmat' test to classify the imported tea as the stimulant drug.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the test only identified a spectrum of substances similar to Phenmetrazine - and that it had only been determined as the fourth most likely substance after sugar, sucrose and powdered sugar.

A forensic operator from the Australian Federal Police even wrote to the leading officer on the case, Detective Senior Constable Tara Conaghan, to express concern over the test.

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Credit: 7NEWS
Credit: 7NEWS

"Mate in a nutshell we cannot take from this ABF result that the sample contains or does not contain Phenmetrazine," they wrote, adding that Conaghan would need to have the sample tested independently to be certain it contained the drug.

A couple of months later, an AFP officer emailed the detective to let her know that lab results from two earlier incidents involving similar products had found that there were 'no prohibited substances detected'.

The court heard that Conaghan failed to pass this information on to the women's defence team, and they remained in jail as a result.

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When asked by Chong's barrister Steve Boland why she failed to inform the women, she said: "Because the drugs were still waiting to be completely tested."

Boland then asked, "So, what, they've got to sit it out in jail?" which was met with silence from Conaghan's end.

Melanie Lim. Credit: Nine News
Melanie Lim. Credit: Nine News

"I'll assume that question is not going to be answered," added Boland.

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Chong and Lim were not bailed until May, and they are now suing for costs, which the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions has refused to pay.

Boland said: "The Crown is opposing the idea that these falsely accused women should get a dollar."

The case was adjourned to March.

Words: Daisy Phillipson

Featured Image Credit: 7News

Topics: Tea, Police, Airport, Drugs, Malaysia, arrested, Australia

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