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Corrupt former customs officer has jail term slashed

Corrupt former customs officer has jail term slashed

A former customs officer who helped members of the Jomaa crime family swindle the federal government out of more than $6 million through illegal tobacco imports was planning another smuggling run before authorities swooped.

But jailed NSW Police multicultural liaison officer Johayna Merhi has now had her sentence shaved after the Court of Criminal Appeal found her sentencing judge didn’t properly consider her prior good character.

Ms Merhi, 43, delivered $100,000 in cash to the Brighton Le Sands home of Australian Border Force manager Craig Eakin, 44, after recruiting him to infiltrate customs systems so shipping containers of tobacco could pass undetected.

Merhi acted as an intermediary between brothers Ali and Abbas Jomaa and Eakin, covertly providing information from the syndicate members to the customs officer, with whom she previously worked, so he could perform unauthorised searches on ABF systems.

The NSW District Court heard Eakin was lured by an “element of romance” with Merhi and, rather than being a seasoned criminal, he was “well and truly out of his depth”.

The members of the black-market syndicate decided they would use the services of the “customs guy” again, with Merhi sending Eakin a text message in July 2017 about about “running another one”.

Merhi and Eakin were arrested in police raids across Sydney and in Dubai in August 2017, with the pair jailed separately this year after pleading guilty to aiding and abetting the importation of tobacco products and bribery charges in August 2018.

Eakin was sentenced in August to four years behind bars, with a non-parole period of two years, while Merhi was jailed for a maximum of of 5½ years, with a minimum term of three years and three months.

Ali and Abbas Jomaa earlier this year pleaded guilty to a raft of charges, including entering into agreement to import tobacco with the intention of defrauding the Commonwealth, bribing a public official, and dealing in proceeds of crime greater than $1 million. Their brother Koder was sentenced in November to at least 14 years in jail for for trying to smuggle 200kg of MDMA into Australia.

In sentencing Merhi in March, Judge Ian McClintock gave little weight to the fact that she was of prior good character, given her employment by the ABF and NSW Police would have been conditional on it.