IN THE midst of coronavirus lockdowns left, right and centre, the wheels of justice keep turning, albeit slowly, with former South Gippsland Shire councillor Jeremy Rich back in court last week on drugs charges dating back to April 2019.
Currently on bail and contesting multiple charges arising out of a police raid on his family’s Walkerville farm property on April 15, Rich attended the Latrobe Valley Magistrates Court last Thursday, where it was decided that his case will go to a contested hearing on November 26.
Seven witnesses will be cross-examined at this one-day hearing, Magistrate Wallington heard at last week’s brief contest mention: a botanist from the Victorian Forensic Science Centre, a representative of Telstra, a representative of toll road company Transurban, and four police witnesses involved in the search on the Walkerville property.
The botanist, via videolink, will be questioned on the nature and state of the plants and plant product seized by police in the raid – alleged to be a cannabis crop and several bags of dried cannabis – and how it can be seen in terms of evidence of cultivation.
The Telstra and Transurban witnesses will give evidence, from phone and toll records, relating to the regularity of Rich’s attendance at the property where the alleged offences occurred.
Rich may call a witness in defence in relation to an illegal firearm found in the police search.
He may also give evidence himself, but this would “depend on how matters unfold,” his
defence counsel said.
Central to the matters in dispute at the hearing will be the question of whether Rich can be convicted of offences allegedly committed on a property he does not have exclusive possession, control, or occupancy of.
At the time of his arrest, Rich’s home address was in the Melbourne suburb of Armadale, and his defence will argue he only “occasionally” attended the Walkerville farm, which is described as an investment property, owned by his family trust, Ansevata Nominees.
Possession charges will also be disputed on the grounds that there were two other people with Rich at the property at the time of the police search – 34-year-old Serbian national Bojan Vukovic, who’s already been sentenced to a year’s jail after pleading guilty to five charges in November 2019, and 50-year-old Brunswick man Simon Cox, who was summonsed to Korumburra Magistrates Court on a minor possession charge.
Rich declined to comment on the case when exiting the Morwell court complex last week, except to say it had been a “very slow process”.
A committal hearing was originally scheduled for November last year, but was derailed when Vukovic entered his guilty plea.
A subsequent court appearance, in February 2020, saw four charges withdrawn from Rich’s name, and his lawyer, Steven Pica, successfully petition for the case to be heard at magistrates’ court level, rather than in the intermediate-level County Court where heavier penalties can apply.
Rich is charged with cultivating cannabis; permitting another person to use his land for cultivating cannabis; trafficking cannabis; possessing cannabis, including in a traffickable quantity; trafficking cocaine; possessing cocaine; possessing hash oil; possessing a .22 rifle without a licence, possessing a shotgun without a licence; and possessing cartridge ammunition without a licence.
His bail was extended.