A love-struck customs officer who pocketed bribes from a smuggling ring associated with a former colleague has been jailed until at least mid-2021, in a decision suppressed for months.
Sydney man Craig Richard Eakin, 44, was jailed in August for four years after playing a critical role in a tobacco smuggling ring’s efforts to bring millions of untaxed cigarettes into the country.
The gang defrauded Australian coffers of more than $6 million but their exact methods to avoid detection remain suppressed.
Eakin, a long-time customs official who held a senior role at the Australian Border Force until his arrest in August 2017, pleaded guilty to receiving a bribe while a Commonwealth official and aiding and abetting the tobacco importation.
The Brighton-Le-Sands man received a $100,000 payment as federal police watched him help the group move the goods from Dubai to Sydney.
Eakin’s lawyer Rose Khalilizadeh told the NSW District Court in June his conduct was in part due to the influence exuded upon him by former customs officer and then-NSW Police employee Johayna Merhi. During their romantic relationship, the married Merhi helped counsel Eakin about his role in the smuggling ring while maintaining high-level contact with the Jomaa brothers, the court heard.
Merhi’s efforts to both manipulate and support Eakin were on full show in July 2017 — a month before their arrest. As part of their investigations, federal police staged a break-in at a facility integral to the operation and took almost $100,000, striking fear into Eakin that the game was up.
Khalilizadeh said the corrupted official didn’t behave like “a competent or seasoned criminal”. “In fact, he contacted the police as a result of that break-in,” she told a court in June. “He is well and truly out of his depth.”
The court was told the pair realised “someone” knew something about their operation and they’d arrived at “the endgame” with “darkness … all around them”. “They’ve got me, baby,” Eakin messaged his 43-year-old love interest.
Suspended by his employer upon his arrest, Eakin spent almost two years on strict bail that his lawyer described as “stricter than home detention”. He will first be eligible for parole in July 2021, when halfway through his total sentence.
Merhi, formerly of Hurstville, pleaded guilty to bribing a Commonwealth official, aiding and abetting the tobacco importation and dealing with proceeds of crime worth more than $100,000. She will contest the severity of her five-years-and-six-months jail term in the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal in November.
Both Eakin and Merhi’s cases had been suppressed until others involved in the smuggling ring faced trial. Arncliffe man David Reda, 46, was found guilty by a jury of recklessly dealing with more than $100,000 proceeds of crime. Rockdale brothers Ali Jomaa, 44, and Abbass Jomaa, 56, pleaded guilty to various charges the day they were due to face trial, including offences related to the bribery of Eakin and dealing with more than $1 million worth of crime proceeds.
Reda, the Jomaas and other syndicate players are expected to be sentenced in the District Court in coming weeks