Chinese nationals facing 16 years for importing drugs

Yiu Tim Kwok and Wing Kee Ng were wearing prison-issued red coveralls and headphones over their ears as they sat in the prisoner's docket at Richmond provincial court on Friday morning.

The sentencing hearing for the Chinese nationals—following a conviction for smuggling the largest quantity of the date-rape drug ketamine hydrochloride in Canadian history—wasn't originally scheduled to begin until January.

But as fortune would have it, this window of time opened up in Richmond court, enabling the Crown and defence to begin making their sentencing arguments before Judge Jane McKinnon.

Federal Crown counsel John Walker said he'll be seeking 16-year sentences for the pair—who followed the court proceedings thanks to a Chinese interpreter—for their importation and drug possession convictions.

And for Vancouver's Hin Cheung Lau, who was found guilty of drug possession for the purposes of trafficking, Walker said he'll be seeking a 12-year sentence.

The trio conspired to smuggle 1,000 kilograms of ketamine, known on the street as Special K and Vitamin, Walker told the court.

"It is an enormous amount that is greater than the local market can ever come close to absorbing," he said, adding the drugs were likely destined for cities to the east and perhaps even south of the border.

The 1,000 kilograms were hidden in a shipment of coffee mugs on Dec. 7, 2010 that was intercepted by Canada Border Services at the Port of Vancouver.

The shipment contained 402 cartons of coffee mugs, but X-ray images revealed discrepancies that prompted a fuller examination.

While 318 of the cartons contained coffee mugs, another 84 boxes contained coffee mugs and vacuum-sealed bags holding a white crystaline power later confirmed as ketamine.

The seizure represents $5 to $8 million worth of ketamine at the wholesale level or 10 million pure doses, or perhaps as much as $50 million worth on the streets.

Walker said ketamine is a schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and an importation conviction is punishable by up to life in prison.

Walker said Ng and Kwok were principles in the importation scheme.

"They were more than so-called mere couriers."

And while Lau's role was "less significant", he was "still essential" in the large scale drug distribution scheme.

Ketamine is not the most serious of the schedule 1 drugs, he said. It creates the illusion of an "out of body experience", and is used as a date rape drug. Legitimately, it's used as a horse tranquilizer.

Because of a lack of court time, the sentencing hearing isn't scheduled to continue until some time in November.

Judge McKinnon noted her concern about Lau's status as he's free on bail.

And considering that his lawyer won't be arguing for a sentence shorter than two years, McKinnon wondered whether the court should revisit his custodial status, as he now remains free in the community despite the conviction and the prospect of facing 12 years in prison.

Also arrested in the case was Vancouver's Hoi Sing Lai who has been ordered to stand trial. The status of another arrested Chinese national, Tak Ming Chan, wasn't clear as of Friday afternoon.

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