On the same day a plane loaded with cocaine crashed in Papua New Guinea, Osman El-Houli was arrested over an alleged $141 million drug importation plot.
Likened to a movie script, Mr El-Houli was accused of driving interstate to collect more than 400kg of pure cocaine delivered by a “black flight” from PNG.
In a Hollywood ending for the Melbourne truck driver, he walked out of Brisbane Supreme Court on Friday with jubilant family and supporters after a jury found him not guilty.
Hired by a man he knew as The Professor, the 35-year-old told police he drove 3000km from Melbourne to collect “bags of cash” in July 2020.
But after arriving in far north Queensland, Mr El-Houli was arrested by heavily armed police when his truck was found parked near Mareeba.
It was alleged he was hired to collect almost half a tonne of cocaine, with concealments cut in plasterboard discovered in his truck along with an encrypted phone.
The drugs never arrived after a plane bound for Mareeba crashed attempting to take off at a remote PNG airstrip the day of Mr El-Houli’s arrest, court was told.
It was believed the operation was run by a syndicate consisting of a Colombian group and Melbourne Mafia, the jury heard.
“You will hear effectively a lot of evidence which you may well in fact think could well be the script of some American movie,” defence barrister Tony Kimmins said.
Mr Kimmins told the jury the courier for a prior “black flight” from PNG was in custody in July 2020.
He suggested the syndicate hired a “dupe” courier, a cleanskin who would not raise suspicion at COVID-restricted border controls.
Mr El-Houli told police someone called The Professor hired him for $10,000 to deliver plasterboard to Queensland but he did not know him well.
Mr Kimmins described The Professor as a master criminal involved in the international drug scene, a “confidence trickster” who he suggested duped Mr El-Houli into taking the last-minute interstate job.