A South African drug courier who was caught in Dublin Airport with cannabis valued at almost €90,000 has been given a six year sentence.
Willem Harding (aged 41) agreed to transport the drugs after he was unable to repay a debt to loan sharks for money he had borrowed to start a business and the criminals threatened his elderly parents.
Harding, of Dawkens Street, Freemanville, North West Province pleaded guilty to possession of the drugs for sale or supply at Dublin Airport on March 6, 2009.
Judge Katherine Delahunt said she was taking into account Harding’s poor health and his cooperation.
She said although he was not on the highest rung of the ladder, he was a courier which was “an effective barrier between criminals and various police forces around the world.”
Judge Delahunt imposed a six-year sentence which she backdated to his arrest and ordered he be removed from the country on completion of his sentence.
Garda Eamon Cleary told Ms Roisin Lacey BL, prosecuting, that Harding was stopped by customs officers after disembarking from a flight from Paris and his trolley suit case was x-rayed. Two packages each containing five heat-sealed slabs of cannabis were recovered from the case. They had a total street value of €88,380.
Harding told gardaí that he had travelled from South Africa via Paris and took full responsibility for the drugs which he said he had been carrying to repay a debt to a loan shark in his homeland.
He said he had a return ticket to South Africa and was supposed to be picked up at the airport.
Harding told gardaí he had borrowed 20,000 South African rand but that he now owed 42,000 rand to the criminals due to interest and he had been told his family would be in danger if he did not transport the drugs.
Gda Cleary agreed with defence counsel, Mr Paul Burns SC, that Harding told them he had never done anything like this before and expressed deep remorse and shame.
Mr Burns said Harding came from a impoverished and difficult background. He had been conscripted into the South African army and served for two years in Angola which he found “harrowing.” He spent three months in hospital receiving psychiatric care at the end of his tour of duty.
Harding’s marriage broke down and he was living with his elderly parents when he borrowed the money he was ultimately unable to repay. He had been hoping to start a business fabricating boilers.
Mr Burns said Harding suffered from chronic asthma and had several life threatening attacks while in custody.
He submitted that it was more difficult for a foreign person to serve time in an Irish prison as they have no visitors and that it was also more difficult for someone with an illness or disability in prison.
22/02/10 - 02/22/10