NSW muso 'sailed cocaine haul from Tahiti'

Mark Russell

After sailing a catamaran from Tahiti to Australia, a NSW musician has claimed he had no idea more than 500 kilograms of cocaine was hidden inside the vessel.

Defence barrister Peter Krisenthal has told a Newcastle District Court jury the talented flautist and saxophonist Craig Lembke wouldn't have been interested in the alleged $500,000 payout to sail the drugs to the NSW Central Coast inside the twin hulls of the 13-metre catamaran Scarabej.

Mr Krisenthal on Wednesday said Lembke had little interest in money and was only passionate about his music and sailing.

Lembke, 49, from Mayfield East in Newcastle, and his co-accused, 36-year-old Daniel Percy from Western Australia, have pleaded not guilty to importing a commercial quantity of cocaine.

Percy is accused of organising the catamaran for the drug shipment but denies knowing the cocaine was on board.

Mr Krisenthal said it didn't make sense for Lembke to risk sailing the drugs to Australia because material wealth was not important to him.

"He's a bit of a dreamer. He's a bit of a romantic type," the defence barrister said.

"He's a person that follows his passion. He's not a person driven by money."

Mr Krisenthal said the drugs had been professionally secreted in the catamaran and could not be seen with the naked eye.

He asked the jury if it was plausible for someone like Lembke to engage in such criminality for $500,000.

But in his opening address to the jury, prosecutor Rob Ranken said Lembke had been recruited by one of the drug shipment organisers who can't be named for legal reasons.

The pure quantity of cocaine in the 700kg of white powder seized by police was just shy of 550kg.

The 700 one-kilo bricks of white powder had been stamped with the logo from the television series ThunderCats.

Lembke had known the organiser - who later pleaded guilty and was jailed for his role in the drug importation - through the music scene in Newcastle.

Mr Ranken told the jury Lembke, an experienced sailor, set off from Tahiti with a friend on October 17 in 2017 to sail the Scarabej to Australia.

He sailed into Coffs Harbour on November 10 to be met by Australian Border Force officers to complete immigration formalities and receive port-to-port clearance to take the catamaran to Pittwater.

Lembke and his friend then set off three days later, arriving at Lake Macquarie the next morning before mooring near the Toronto Royal Motor Yacht Club.

Mr Ranken said the drug shipment organiser had met with Lembke two months earlier at the musician's home to ask him to sail the Scarabej from Tahiti to Australia.

After the meeting, the organiser allegedly told a drug syndicate member - who also can't be named and was later jailed for his role - "OK, he's in" in a conversation recorded by police.

Police were monitoring the Scarabej when the drug syndicate member boarded the catamaran on November 15 and began using power tools after 9am to cut through the hull to access the drugs.

Mr Ranken said Lembke travelled by dinghy to the Scarabej a short time later and was seen to be looking at the hull and inside the hatch before leaving.

The prosecutor said in a recorded conversation between Lembke and the drug syndicate member the night before, the musician talked about how "this is all new to me" and asked if there were any concerns about undercover police officers.

The trial before Judge Jonathon Priestley continues on Thursday.