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Home and Away star Putu Winchester denies charges

By Gorethy Kenneth PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, March 31, 2010) - The fate of five Australians including Home and Away star Putu Winchester could hang on a court examination of their yacht in the waters of Bougainville today.

[PIR editor’s note: Home and Away is an award-winning Australian soap opera that has been produced in Sydney by the Seven Network since July 1987. It is the second longest-running drama on Australian television, winning more than 30 "Logie Awards"]

The court, under Magistrate Peter Toliken, will move to the nearby anchoring point in the Buka Passage, about two minutes by outboard powered boat from Buka town. The court yesterday heard evidence from five police witnesses about finding two containers allegedly containing marijuana on the yacht.

Police produced in court two separate samples containing marijuana allegedly found in the yacht on March 18.

The court heard the evidence over six hours. A honey jar containing almost two grams was allegedly found in the captain’s drawer by police constable Pascal Seima and a green bag containing 470 grams of the drug was allegedly found by Senior Constable Michael Kukubak at the front of the yacht. Sen Const Kukubak told the court yesterday that police impounded the boat between Inus and Yom, on north Bougainville waters. Sen Const Kukubak served the search warrant on the captain, Michael Northcote. The captain understood the search warrant and allowed for the operation. He was present when police conducted the search.

"I saw a bottle of hot stuff and jokingly said, that is nice stuff." The captain replied that the hot stuff belonged to the yacht. I continued with the search and found the bag and the captain told me he didn’t know anything about the bag. The captain said, "Take this and leave the bag." (He offered me the hot stuff). I replied, "Sorry, I am not interested in that." He asked me the second time and said, "Please take this and leave that bag because I don’t want to be in trouble." I opened the bag and there I could see marijuana or cannabis."

The first witness was the person who allegedly found the honey jar of marijuana in the captain’s drawer. The second, Hilary Rigamu was the person who confirmed that it was marijuana in the container. The third, First Constable Reuben Baloiloi was the investigator who kept the items as exhibits, Sen Const Kukubak was the fourth witness and the last was First Constable Sheena Cook who was the officer who also asked the Australians about the drugs. All denied having any knowledge of the seized goods. She carried the impounded containers to the Post Office in Buka to weigh them.

At 9 a.m. today the court under the leadership of Magistrate Toliken and police and the lawyers representing the Australians will view the yacht before convening the case to take in submissions from the Australians.

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