A colourful socialite known as ‘Hot Mess’ has been cleared of playing a role in an international drug importation syndicate and released on bail after nearly a year behind bars on remand.
Anthony Hess swapped his designer labels for a plain white T-shirt as he appeared in Melbourne Magistrates Court on Tuesday over the drug charges.
Police had alleged the 43-year-old was involved in attempts to import large quantities of cocaine, methamphetamine and ketamine into Australia from the US and Europe in 2020 and 2021.
As he appeared on screen for a committal hearing, crown prosecutor Holly Baxter withdrew the six charges against Mr Hess at the last minute and laid six alternative counts.
The fresh charges included a single count of attempting to import ketamine and three charges of aiding and abetting the trafficking of a commercial quantity of an illicit drug.”
Police had alleged he facilitated the large-volume importation by providing the addresses of his friends for three illicit international shipments.
The court heard he made a call to shipping company DHL Express on December 29, 2020 about a parcel which had not arrived at its destination.
Unbeknown to him, the parcel had been identified as illegal drugs and seized by the Australian Border Force.
Ms Baxter told the court the formerly high-profile influencer had dealt with the drugs by “asserting ownership” over the package shipped from the UK.
“He had made provision for its delivery and what will happen beyond its delivery into Australia,” she said.
His lawyer Paul Smallwood argued the phone call did not prove Mr Hess had knowingly attempted to ship a marketable quantity of ketamine into Australia.
“At its highest, this is an inquiry about an attempt to deal with this consignment,” he said.
“It’s not an attempt to deal with it in connection to its importation.”
Mr Smallwood argued there was “no message” or “direct phone call” that proved his client had supplied the delivery addresses.
“Most fundamentally, there is no evidence that – even if it is accepted that Mr Hess provided (his friends’ addresses) – that a person committed the importation,” he said.
In order to be found guilty, Mr Smallwood noted his client’s conduct must have assisted in the commission of drug importation which was committed by another person.
“If the prosecution cannot establish the person who (Mr Hess) is said to have aided or abetted … (or) establish that person is guilty of the offence of importation, then (the) charges must necessarily fail,” he said.
But Magistrate Kieran Gilligan agreed with the defence that there was a “gap in the prosecution case” which could not be overcome.
He dismissed the four drug-related charges due to insufficient evidence and ordered the crown to pay Mr Hess’ legal fees.
“In my view, there is no case to answer in relation to (these) charges,” the magistrate said.
While the ruling represents a major legal victory, Mr Hess is still facing another two fresh charges not related to drug importation.
He is accused of trying to obtain a financial advantage by deception after he submitted an insurance claim which alleged his $44,000 Rolex watch had been stolen while he was in Thailand.
Police also charged the 43-year-old with perjury after he signed a police statement about the theft, which is allegedly inconsistent with accounts he gave to others.
The court heard he did not receive a payout as a result of the insurance claim.
The South Melbourne resident will return to court later in the year to enter pleas to the two dishonesty charges.
He was granted bail on Tuesday after spending just under a year behind bars on remand following his arrest in June last year.
Mr Hess thanked the magistrate and waved to the court.
He burst into the spotlight in 2020 amid a bitter feud with Sydney public relations guru Roxy Jacenko, in which he graffitied ‘Roxy is a c***’ outside her business.
The socialite, who has been photographed with celebrities and former prime ministers, was also reportedly slapped by former bikie Toby Mitchell after a boozy night out in South Yarra.
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