FORMER South Gippsland Shire Councillor Jeremy Rich was in court again last Friday, November 29, facing a host of drugs charges and firearms’ offences.
But his committal hearing in the Latrobe Valley Magistrates’ Court did not go ahead as planned.
The whole day was derailed when Mr Rich’s co-accused, Bojan Vukovic, a 34-year-old Serbian national, of Bentleigh East, pleaded guilty to five charges arising out of a police raid at the Rich family’s Walkerville farming property on Monday, April 15, this year.
Mr Vukovic was later sentenced to 12 months in jail, of which he has already served 233 days.
Mr Rich’s lawyer, Ian Hill QC, argued that it was a significant development for the co-accused to plead guilty, particularly to cultivation, placing his client’s committal in an awkward position.
He said it was only fair for the police to interview the man after he had been sentenced, or for him to be questioned by the defence, to establish his level of involvement, prior to Mr Rich’s committal being heard.
“We would want to know how he cultivated it so we could cross-examine the informant. If this matter was at trial, there would be no question that the co-accused would be dealt with first.
“In the interests of justice, these matters need to be explored,” said Mr Hill.
The prosecutor for the OPP, Daniel Porcedou, argued the committal should go ahead regardless.
He said it didn’t matter that the co-accused had pleaded guilty, alleging that Mr Rich was there on the day of the raid, that he was in control of the property and, under the deeming provisions, was also at fault.
“Deeming provisions don’t operate at the exclusion of other people. A person can be in joint possession of items,” he said.
“In the circumstances, the committal should move forward, and we are ready to call witnesses.”
But Magistrate Tom Barrett agreed with Mr Hill.
He said it was only fair to provide the opportunity for Mr Vukovic to make a statement.
Accordingly, he adjourned the Rich matter and set a new committal date for Thursday, February 6.
Afterwards, Mr Rich made some comments to the media as he left the court.
He said he would be prepared to say something about charges “in due course”.
Asked if would consider running for council again, he said: “I think we have a number of systemic issues at South Gippsland that need to be addressed,” leaving open the prospect of standing again.
Mr Rich is facing the following charges:
• Cultivating a commercial quantity of cannabis.
• Cultivating a non-commercial quantity of cannabis.
• Trafficking a commercial quantity of cannabis.
• Also possessing cannabis, possessing hash oil, possessing heroin, possessing ecstasy, trafficking ecstasy, possessing a .22 rifle without a licence and possessing a shotgun without a licence.