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Tears in court as man jailed for cannabis dealing & possession

Monday 2 October 2023 | Written by Al Williams | Published in Court, National


Tears in court as man jailed for cannabis dealing & possession

A “low level street dealer” convicted of dealing and possession of cannabis has been given 13 months’ jail.

Rhys Bromley Munro-Manu appeared for sentencing at the High Court in Avarua on Thursday before Justice Colin Doherty.

Munro-Manu’s case stretches back to 2019 and there were tears in court as Justice Doherty asked the registrar to hand the defendant tissues as he stood at sentencing.

Family members, including the defendant’s mother, were visibly upset.

Crown lawyer Jamie Crawford described Munro-Manu as a low level street dealer.

Defence lawyer Mark Short said he had only been approached by the defendant last week to represent him at sentencing.

While the case had been on the books for several years, Munro-Manu had wanted to enter a guilty plea in order to provide closure.

The defendant had a 10-year-old daughter and had been exposed to cannabis at a young age.

His parents had separated and he was “trying to find his way in life”.

He had tried working overseas and had returned to Rarotonga.

Short said his client was a hard worker and could be relied on. Munro-Manu was well liked and a letter of reference from his employer at the Nautilus Resort Rarotonga was provided.

He was described as a valued member of the team while a letter of reference from Member of Parliament for Ngatangiia, Tukaka "Kaka" Ama described him as an integral part of the rugby league team.

His father had been described as a rugby league legend in the Cooks.

Short said Munro-Manu accepted responsibility and had been attending counselling.

Before addressing Munro-Manu, Justice Doherty asked the registrar to hand him some tissues as he was visibly upset.

The court heard police conducted an investigation into drug dealing on Rarotonga in 2019.

Munro-Manu was one of a number of people targeted.

He was suspected of dealing locally grown and imported cannabis and upon a search, police found 11 foils of cannabis on him, plus a bag of cannabis and $275.

A further search of his phone records showed he had offered to sell cannabis multiple times over several months.

While he had been waiting four years for resolution, part of it was his denial of wrong doing and partly because of the investigation, Justice Doherty said.

Munro-Manu had no previous convictions and his mother was in court supporting him.

He lived with his partner and had good employment at a resort.

Justice Doherty said Munro-Manu had promise and contributed to the community but the aggravating feature was the length of time and number of attempts he made to sell cannabis.

“You had quite an intensive operation going.’

The Crown had recommended a jail sentence of between 18 months and two years.

Starting at 24 months, he was given a discount for a guilty plea and a further three months for other consideration.

Justice Doherty ordered him to serve 12 months of probation upon his release from jail.

“I’m impressed you have taken the approach you have; I wish you luck on your release.”

Munro-Manu was the fourth person to be locked up for cannabis related convictions in the Cooks last week.

Utariki Bishop, Samuel Marsters Ioane and Quinton Alas Schofield were given sentences ranging between seven and eight months in relation to the massive cannabis bust on Aitutaki in 2022.     

Seven men have now been jailed in relation to Operation Tuvake, launched in 2020 due to concerns of Cook Islands Police regarding cannabis drug dealing activities by members of the Cook Islands community in Aitutaki.

Cook Islands News has asked Police for the costs of the two-year investigation, which culminated with 20 police officers from Rarotonga arriving on Aitutaki in the early hours of January 13, 2022 to execute search warrants on nine properties.

Eight people were arrested as police seized cannabis plants, branches, pre-cut aluminium foils used for selling, drug utensils, cannabis seeds, various amounts of cash including foreign currency, and potting mix soil and other items as evidence of cultivation.

Last week, Office of the Prime Minister chief of staff Ben Ponia told Cook Islands News the final draft report and a plan for a medicinal cannabis regime has been completed.

Ponia said once comments had been consolidated, committee chair, Tingika Elikana, will issue a media statement, possibly this week.