Ethiopian community leader Mulugeta Abebe (of Melbourne) and Ethiopian visitor Abdelkerim Mudeser pleaded guilty in South Australia (SA) to trafficking a commercial amount of khat which is deemed in SA as harmful as ice and heroin.
A herbal stimulant — legal in many countries and for centuries used by African people for cultural and religious reasons — has led to prison terms for an Ethiopian community leader and his friend.
In a case The Advertiser understands to be an Australian first, Melbourne man Mulugeta Fekdu Abebe and Ethiopian visitor Abdelkerim Ahmed Mudeser were jailed for at least 18 and 15 months respectively for importing 60kg of khat in May 2016.
Khat is a shrub native to East Africa which can be chewed, smoked or consumed in tea, producing a stimulant effect through the ingredient cathinone, which is stronger than coffee but far less potent than amphetamines.
Mulugeta and Abdelkerim pleaded guilty in the District Court to trafficking a commercial amount of khat, which can cause psychological dependence, but is commonly used by African people from childhood.
District Court judge Paul Rice said the Controlled Substances Act left him no option but to treat khat as being “equally harmful” as ice, heroin and synthetic drugs linked to sudden deaths.
Judge Rice said Abdelkerim was unaware of the potential consequences when he agreed to import two packages of khat, which were seized at Adelaide Airport.
“You assumed that if you were not allowed to have the drug … in South Australia it would simply be thrown out like any other plant or food material,” Judge Rice said.
Abdelkerim Ahmed Mudeser, a 58-year-old father-of-two with limited English skills, had been unable to contact his family including his 11-year-old daughter who needs to travel to Sweden for specialist treatment for a heart condition.