7 May 2024

'Subservient' Canberra businessman David Campbell jailed over $1.5 billion cocaine conspiracy

| Albert McKnight
cocaine bricks

Police seized 1.28 tonnes of cocaine when it arrived in Sydney in April 2017. Photo: AFP Facebook.

A third conspirator who played a “subservient” role in a syndicate’s attempt to possess up to $1.5 billion worth of cocaine has been handed nearly two decades in jail.

David Edward John Campbell was sentenced to a total of 18 years in jail on Friday (3 May) after his co-offender, former Canberra builder Tristan Egon Sebastian Waters, was handed 20 years in prison late last month.

Campbell had fought the allegations against him, but last year, a NSW District Court jury found the 54-year-old guilty of a charge of conspiring with others to possess a commercial quantity of unlawfully imported cocaine.

Judge Phillip Mahony SC said police intercepted a shipping container at Port Botany in April 2017 that contained prefabricated steel, inside of which 2576 blocks of cocaine weighing 1.28 tonnes had been hidden.

It was estimated the drugs had a street value of between about $700 million and $1.5 billion.

A shipping agent told Campbell, a businessman from the Canberra region, that the container was not available for collection as it was “lost on the dock” before later telling him that it had been found.

Campbell immediately contacted a co-offender, Rohan Peter Arnold, and arranged for meetings. He tried to negotiate for the return of the cocaine, travelled to Serbia and said he was willing to kill an undercover police officer to try to retrieve the drugs.

READ ALSO David McBride stole 207 secret military documents, leaked info due to fears of ADF’s ‘improper investigation’

He acted as a lookout for a meeting at the Metropol Hotel in Belgrade on 16 January 2018, during which Waters and Arnold met with undercover police officers.

This meeting was the end of the line for the conspirators as they were then arrested. When police took then-48-year-old Campbell into custody, they found he had a pistol with him, for which he served six months in a Serbian prison before being extradited to Australia.

One of the 2576 blocks of cocaine seized in Sydney in April 2017. Photo: AFP Facebook.

Campbell claimed he suffered a fractured hand and perforated eardrum during his arrest in Serbia and then became a target of extortion when in the country’s prison system, describing it as “a very scary time” for him.

He spent over nine years in the army and incorporated an importing company called Solutions 4 Steel with Arnold. He also said he ran “the biggest farming shed supply company in the country”.

His lawyers argued he played a “relatively low level and subservient role in the conspiracy” and had only briefly met Waters in Belgrade.

READ ALSO Department of Finance conspirator avoids jail over ‘thoroughly dishonest scheme’

“Whilst it is clear that the offender was acting at the direction of Mr Arnold, supposedly out of misplaced loyalty due to their long-standing friendship and business relationship, that does not diminish his moral culpability for the offending, which was high,” Judge Mahoney said.

“Whilst his role and conduct meant that he was at the lowest level in the hierarchy of the criminal enterprise, it still constituted very serious criminal offending for the duration of the conspiracy, notwithstanding that the goal of the conspirators was ultimately unsuccessful.

“Given the quantity of the prohibited drugs involved and the potential for harm to potential end users of those drugs, it was also highly morally culpable conduct.”

Campbell was convicted and handed a non-parole period of 10-and-a-half years, which means he will become eligible for parole in July 2028 with time served.

Waters was sentenced to 20 years in jail with a non-parole period of 12 years over his role in the crime, while Arnold pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to import a border-controlled drug and 2020 was sentenced to 27 years in jail with 19 years non-parole.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.