White privilege gets man off cocaine import charges

The son of a rich list wine family has been discharged without conviction after being snared importing cocaine and other drugs on the Dark Web.

Joseph Peter Babich, 51, from the well-known Babich wine family, was initially convicted and sentenced to 12 months’ home detention in the Auckland District Court on five charges of importing a class A drug and one charge of importing a class C drug.

Six parcels containing 11.6 grams of Cocaine, 1.4 grams of methamphetamine and 3.5 grams of class C drug Ketamine were intercepted between February and May 2017.

Babich admitted his offending, explaining he ordered the drugs in an attempt at self-medication and he gave police access to his computer, accounts and passwords.

In a High Court decision released this week Justice Simon France allowed an appeal and quashed the convictions. This was based on a combination of factors leading to “the uncommon assessment that the consequences of conviction will be out of proportion to the seriousness of class A drug offending,” he said.

Babich, who Justice France noted had long suffered from depression, had no previous convictions, immediately accepted responsibility and there was no suggestion he had previously used, let alone imported drugs.

It was a “mad-headed attempt of self-medication to address a long standing serious illness where conventional medicine has not helped,” Justice France said.

Since his arrest Babich had made significant efforts at addressing his issues, including resuming treatment with his psychiatrist, attending Community Alcohol and Drug Services and getting involved in various community activities.

He had also been offered employment in the wine industry with a position that involved travel overseas to the wine company’s main markets. Convictions would have ended that opportunity.

The judgment didn’t name the wine company.

A Babich family spokesman declined to comment, aside from confirming Babich is brother of Babich Wines chief executive David Babich.

The third-generation family business celebrated its centennial in 2016, based on the first bottlings of 20-year-old Josip Babich in 1916. The family appears on the NBR Rich List and is valued at $100 million.

While noting that six importations of 16 grams was a significant roadblock to an appeal, Justice France said he differed from the District Court in two ways.

“I do not consider it to be particularly sophisticated offending – ordering on the internet to be delivered by regular post. Also, I focus less on the overall total amount of drug imported and more on the purpose behind the importation. That seems the key to understanding this particular case.

“Conviction will prevent Mr Babich from bedding home the gains he has made by denying him access to a good job opportunity that has arisen. At aged 51 there is an opportunity to solidify his personal transition. He is a first offender, caught up in a brief period of madness that was going to affect only him.

“Overall, I see this case as one where the combination of numerous factors leads to the uncommon assessment that the consequences of conviction will be out of all proportion to the seriousness of class A drug offending.

“I am influenced by the low quantity of each importation, the short duration of what is a lapse from law abiding conduct, the motivations behind the offending, the long standing and independently established battle with depression that no doubt influenced his decision-making, the ready acceptance of responsibility, the genuine and determined efforts to address the causes, the apparent success of those efforts, and the significant direct consequences that will occur if convictions result.”

Babich has served five weeks’ home detention and Justice France said no other penalty was required.

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