A LITHUANIAN drug mule caught with €3540 worth of heroin after stepping off a bus from Dublin feared for his life after becoming entangled with a “notorious and violent drug gang”, Limerick Circuit Court has heard.
Mindaugas Palizija’s was the first case before the court involving the activities of an Eastern European criminal organisation which gardai believe is recruiting vulnerable young men for the drug trade in Ireland.
Mr Palizija , 21, with an address at Nottingham Street in Dublin, had only been in Ireland about six weeks when he agreed to a do a drugs run to Limerick on March 5 last.
Mr Palizija, who pleaded guilty to possession of drugs for sale or supply, got off the bus at Colbert Station and met another Lithuanian male who members of the Garda divisional drug unit had under observation, John O’Sullivan BL, prosecuting, said.
Searched by gardai, Mr Palizija was found to have 114 clear plastic bags of heroin in the pocket of his jacket.
Garda Padraic Quirke said that when the accused was questioned at Henry Street garda station, he told officers he had been ordered to travel from Dublin to Limerick with the drugs. Since arriving in Ireland, he had been put up, fed and supplied with drugs for his own use by compatriots. He was ordered to deal drugs to work off his own debt to what turned out to be an organised crime gang.
Garda Quirke said gardai believed Mr Palizija had been a drug user in his own country and that his “sole purpose in coming here was to be involved in sale and supply and he was recruited for this”.
Garda Quirke agreed with Cian Kelly BL, defending, that Mr Palizija was one of a number of vulnerable young men from Lithuania who had come to the attention of the drugs squad.
“From autumn of last year, it came to our attention that various Lithuanian nationals who had been in the country only a short time were being found in possession of heroin,” Garda Quirke said.
“It is my belief,” he told Judge Carroll Moran, “that he was threatened to carry the drugs from Dublin to Limerick by a criminal organisation.”
The accused has no previous convictions in Ireland and gardai who contacted Interpol were unaware of any criminal history in Lithuania.
Mr Kelly said the accused came from a good family, had worked in Norway and also on a chicken farm in the UK. Letters from his mother and brother expressed great surprise that Mr Palizija was being prosecuted for a drug offence.
“He was under extreme duress in that there was a threat over his life from people who had the power, the intention, the capability and the form to carry it out,” the barrister submitted.
“He was left with little alternative because his life was in danger,” he added.
“This is a notorious and violent drug gang using vulnerable young men to further their vile aims and their profiteering. This man was a pawn in that system.”
Judge Moran sentenced Mr Palizija to three years in prison, backdated to March 5.