Bali Nine uncle done for grass

A CLOSE relative of Bali Nine drug smuggler Michael Czugaj has been convicted in the Warwick Magistrates Court on cannabis charges, the Daily News can reveal.

Fifty-year-old Nick Scott Czugaj – an uncle of the infamous drug “mule” now serving life imprisonment in Indonesia – was fined $800 after pleading guilty to producing and possessing cannabis.

Nick Czugaj is listed on court files as residing at Junabee, having been born in the United Kingdom in 1960.

His mother Julie, who lives in Warwick, confirmed he is an uncle of Michael Czugaj and that she is Michael’s grandmother.

Nick Czugaj, who was also convicted last week in Warwick of possessing a cannabis pipe, has a lengthy criminal history dating back to 1978, when he was convicted in the Brisbane Magistrates Court of stealing.

Court files show his first drug conviction was at the Holland Park Magistrates Court in October 1990, for drug possession.

He also has past convictions for breaking and entering and assault occasioning bodily harm for which he received a year’s probation.

His nephew Michael Czugaj was arrested on April 17 2005 at Ngurah Rai Airport in Denpasar on the island of Bali, along with schoolmate Scott Rush and seven other young people trying to smuggle more than eight kilograms of heroin worth an estimated $4 million from Indonesia to Australia.

They all initially faced the death penalty under Indonesia’s hard-line drug laws, with three eventually sent to death row, including ringleaders Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan and drug courier Rush.

Michael Czugaj, a former glazier, was 19 at the time he was found with 1.75kg of heroin taped to his legs.

He testified at his Bali trial that Rush introduced him in Brisbane to Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen, who offered them both a free holiday to Bali.

He also testified thatAndrew Chan had threatened to kill him and his family if he did not co-operatewith the smuggling plan.

On February 14 2006 Michael Czugaj was sentenced to life imprisonment and the sentence was upheld on April 26 2006.

His older brother, Richard, was jailed in Australia in June 2008 for 18 months for assault, while his sister, Melanie Czugaj, was convicted in the same year for possessing the illicit drug ice at Ascot in Brisbane.

The family is originally from the former Czechoslovakia but fled to the UK to escape communism.

Julie Czugaj was unaware of her son Nick’s drug conviction last week but said he and Michael had lived together briefly with other family members in Brisbane a short time before Michael made his now-infamous trip to Bali.

Mrs Czugaj recalled her grandson as “one of the sweetest of them all” who had lived with her for a year at Rocklea while he was in high school after experiencing problems at home.

She said Michael visited her the day before he flew out from Australia.

“He told me someone was paying for a holiday for him in Bali,” she said.

“He was so excited – he said he had always wanted to travel there and it broke my heart when he was arrested.”

Mrs Czugaj said she hoped the three members of the Bali Nine facing the firing squad all won reprieves and that she was “terribly upset” at their predicament.

She said she had never met her grandson’s former schoolmate Scott Rush.

Lawyers for Rush, Chan and Sukumaran are expected to lodge appeals against their death sentences shortly.

If they fail the trio will be forced to seek clemency from Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who typically shows no mercy to drug smugglers.

Of the six couriers arrested at Denpasar Rush was the only one sentenced to death.

Renae Lawrence, who is expected to testify at Rush’s final appeal hearings, is serving 20 years. The other five are serving life sentences.

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