NV couple guilty of opium smuggling
Police find 3.5 kilograms of drug inside picture frames
A North Vancouver couple have each been handed a sentence of two years less a day in jail after being found guilty of importing opium from the Middle East hidden in hollow picture frames.
Reza Eshghabadi and his wife Ashraf Nabiloo were handed the sentences Nov. 16 by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Wedge.
Both Eshghabadi and Nabiloo were found guilty of importing 1.5 kilograms of opium in picture frames that arrived with a shipment of glassware from Dubai in November of 2003. Wedge also convicted the couple on charges of possession for the purposes of trafficking.
Eshghabadi was acquitted on one additional charge of importing drugs connected to an earlier shipment of drug-filled picture frames that arrived from Iran at the bottom of a container holding cases of melons.
A total of 3.5 kilograms of opium was hidden inside the two shipments.
The convictions mark the second guilty verdicts for the pair, who were originally found guilty of importing and trafficking drugs by a B.C. Supreme Court jury in October of 2005. Those verdicts were later overturned on appeal.
Police and customs officials arrested the pair in November 2003 after intercepting the two shipments at Vancouver International Airport.
When the shipment of glassware arrived, authorities confirmed the picture frames contained opium, then replaced the drugs and allowed Eshghabadi and Nabiloo to pick up the container.
Police then followed them back to their apartment on West 16th Avenue in North Vancouver. Police arrested the pair and searched the apartment where they discovered the unopened picture frames had been pulled from the bottom of the container, next to tools including pliers and a screwdriver. An opium pipe and two digital scales were also found in the apartment, along with other picture frames, including one that had been previously pried open.
When Eshghabadi was arrested, on his way to the building's parking garage, he was carrying 98 grams of opium, along with another picture that had the backing removed.
The central issue in the trial involved whether the couple had knowingly imported opium to sell it or whether, as defence lawyers suggested, they were unwitting drug couriers.
Crown counsel told the judge the circumstantial evidence against the pair was overwhelming, pointing out that both shipments were sent to the couple's residential address and that the picture frames were found near to tools clearly intended for opening them. Crown counsel added the drug courier theory didn't make sense.
Defence lawyers told the judge the couple are opium addicts and that the opium found was for their own consumption. They suggested the digital scales in the apartment were used to weigh a pair of lovebirds being raised by the couple, rather than to measure drugs, and that the couple didn't know about the opium contained in the picture frames.
The judge, however, didn't buy it.
In handing down her verdict, Wedge pointed out that only the pictures had been removed from the container when the police arrived and that numerous other lacquered frames were found in the apartment, including one that had been pried apart. She said it was reasonable to assume "both of these accused knew there was something concealed inside the frames."
She added it is unlikely the opium would be for personal consumption, as the amount would be "more than a year's supply of opium for a very heavy user."
The couple immigrated to Canada from Iran in 1995 and 1996, and both are now landed immigrants.
Because they don't have full citizenship, they stand to be deported from the country after serving their sentences.
Jane Seyd, North Shore News
Published: Wednesday, November 25, 2009