Asylum seeker jailed over opium import

·2-min read

An asylum seeker who fled Iran for Australia has been jailed for at least five years over more than 10kg of opium shipped from Istanbul to Melbourne.

The drugs were hidden in the base of an asphalt compactor machine searched by border officials in January 2018.

Saeid Balagar and another man, Nader Khanmohammadi Ahmad Abad, were tasked with collecting the drugs at a St Albans home.

Balagar initially claimed he was only involved under duress and after receiving threats.

He pleaded guilty to attempting to possess 10.83kg of pure opium, considered a marketable quantity of the drug, at the start of his jury trial in Victoria's County Court.

Balagar was jailed on Thursday for seven years, with a five-year non-parole period.

He has already spent more than three years in custody and that time will count towards his sentence.

Balagar fled Iran as a teenager and went to Indonesia. He said he'd been subject to violence after converting to Christianity.

He met Abad, who also fled Iran after being harassed by that country's security service, as a 17-year-old on a boat destined for Australia in 2013.

After five days at sea, the vessel started to sink and the passengers were rescued by the Australian navy.

Balagar was left traumatised because he nearly drowned. He was released on a bridging visa and tried to make his way without any support or skills, turning to alcohol and drugs.

The court was told he would likely be taken into immigration detention following his sentence and could be deported.

Judge Frances Dalziel acknowledged Balagar was a small player in a larger drug operation.

She found his involvement was motivated by the prospect of money and not because of threats.

In a letter to the judge, Balagar apologised for his actions and said he was ashamed.

Abad was jailed in mid-2019 for four-and-a-half years after admitting his lesser role in attempting to possess the drugs.