How long do you think it would take to determine if a substance is tea or drugs? Well, for one mother and daughter pair, the answer turned out to be an agonizing 5 months.
Vun Pui “Connie” Chong and her daughter, San Yan Melanie Lim had hopes of selling their tea in Australia earlier this year. The pair imported 25 kilograms of brown ginger tea from their home country of Malaysia and planned on selling it for a slightly increased price. So, if they sold it all, they would have made a $65 profit in total.
However, things did not go as planned.
The Tea Arrest
Chong and Lim share a home in southwest Sydney, Australia. It was here in mid-January of this year when things took a shocking turn for them.
“Heavily-armed police officers their home after Australian Border Force (ABF) officials intercepted the tea packets at the international airport and wrongly identified their contents as amphetamine. The women were arrested and jailed for 5 months – despite the fact that authorities were made aware of problems with the tests used to identify the substance in the weeks and months following.”Vice
The ABF had erroneous information and their test results were non-conclusive. Despite that, they believed the tea to be Phenmetrazine- an illegal stimulant. So, the ABF wanted to charge them with commercial drug supply, an offense that carries a maximum sentence of life behind bars.
“A costs hearing at Downing Centre today heard an email exchange. It was between the officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Tara Conaghan, and an AFP agent. In it, it was revealed NSW Police knew as early as February the initial hazmat test was inconclusive. Further emails from the AFP in April confirmed they had tested the shipment themselves and “no prohibited substances were detected.”9News
“The court also heard, however, that the presumptive test merely generated a spectrum of similar substances to Phenmetrazine. In fact, the tea was fourth most likely to be Phenmetrazine behind sugar, sucrose and powdered sugar.”Vice
Refusing to Admit Wrongdoing
One forensic specialist from the Australian Federal Police wrote to Detective Senior Constable Tara Conaghan in February. “Mate in a nutshell we cannot take from this ABF result that the sample contains or does not contain Phenmetrazine.” They added that she would need to have the sample tested independently to be sure.
Detective Conaghan did not pass this information on to the women’s defense team, which is normal protocol. Shortly after, an AFP officer emailed Detective Conoghan to let her know that lab results from two earlier incidents involving similar products had found that there were ‘no prohibited substances detected’.
Having this information and not doing anything with it, the detective may be responsible for Chong and Lim’s wrongful incarceration.
Chong and Lim remained in jail until May when they were able to make bail. In fact, charges remained for both of them until August.
Chong’s lawyer Steve Boland asked detective Conoghan why she withheld that vital information.
She replied, “Because the drugs were still waiting to be completely tested.”
Boland asked, “So, what, they’ve got to sit it out in jail?” To which Conoghan did not respond. “I’ll assume that question is not going to be answered.”
Chong and Lim are now suing for costs. However, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions is refusing to pay. Interestingly, the court will be postponing their case until March of 2022.
“The Crown is opposing the idea that these falsely accused women should get a dollar,” said Boland.
- “Mother and Daughter Spend Months in Jail After Cops Mistake Tea for Drugs.” Vice World News. Gavin Butler. November 17, 2021
- “Emails reveal police knew tea thought to be drugs was not an illegal substance while mother and daughter were sitting in jail.” 9News. James Wilson. November 16, 2021
- “Mother And Daughter Spend Months In Prison After Police Mistake Tea For Drugs.” LadBible. November 20, 2021