In front of Judge Liz Gaynor in a Melbourne court today, Saab and two accomplices, Darren Hughes and Robert Remeeus, pled guilty to charges that they conspired to smuggle 14.6 kilos of cocaine into Australia earlier this year. As a part of the plea, Saab was sentenced to a minimum of ten years in prison for cocaine importation and being the “ringleader” of the operation. Hughes and Remeeus, for their actions, received a minimum of five years in prison and a maximum of eight for attempting to possess cocaine.
On January 15, Australian customs officials in Sydney intercepted a shipment of agricultural equipment from Canada and found the contraband. In its stead, the customs agents replaced the cocaine with similar-looking material and allowed the shipment to go through to its destination, presumably to gain more evidence for their investigation. Hughes, using a rented van, picked up the equipment and delivered it to Remeeus and Saab. Once the drugs arrived with the trio, they broke apart the equipment to retrieve their cargo.
Police continued to monitor the conspirators, gaining more information on their plans and, in essence, which member of the team was in charge of the operation. The cocaine had a street value of between $6.5 and $8.5 million and, through the phone calls, found that there were already buyers in place for much of the shipment. Saab was to earn $110,000 for his efforts and Hughes was supposed to have earned $10,000. The ring came to an end when the threesome was arrested by Australian authorities on January 24.
The Melbourne Herald Sun reports that Judge Gaynor, while sentencing Saab, stated, “The illusory world you have constructed for yourself (has) been shattered by your arrest.” Saab’s attorney, Robert Richter, had stated that Saab aspired to a glamorous life and gravitated towards the rich he met at casinos. Judge Gaynor seemed to go easier on Remeeus, who at the time was a disability worker with the Department of Human Services, and Hughes, whose brother works for the Australian Federal Police. She decided that both were “seduced” into the scheme for their own reasons but were otherwise not intrinsically implicit in the performance of the crime.
The Herald Sun portrays Saab as a failed businessman who aspired to become a top professional poker player. Born thirty years ago in South Korea, the Herald Sun says that Saab struggled as an immigrant in Australia before becoming a semi-professional backgammon player and setting up his own internet service business. After running into financial trouble, he turned his hand to poker, where Saab had some level of success.
According to the Hendon Mob database, Saab has over $550,000 in career earnings since entering the tournament poker world in 2005. His best year was 2008, when he took down $424,382 in earnings by winning a $2500 No Limit Hold’em tournament for $280,000 during an Asian Poker Tour stop in Manilla, the Philippines and followed it up by earning another $135,100 by finishing in 46th place at the 2008 World Series of Poker Championship Event. Since those two large scores, however, he has earned only $22,488 over the past two full calendar years and it is not known if this paucity of funds contributed to his decision to attempt the smuggling operation.
Both Saab and Remeeus were familiar faces around poker tournaments in Australia. They were partners on what was called “The SAAB Squad,” a team of poker players whose stated goal on their Facebook page was “to travel the globe in search of success on the felt. The Squad focuses on learning the game, living the dream, and loving every minute…well, except for those times when we can all hate the game!” Saab was especially active at the Crown Casino in Melbourne, where the Aussie Millions is held, and also frequented the Sydney casino scene.