‘I am shocked’: Disbelief at drugs and guns charges
A FRIEND of Australian horse trainer John Nikolic and wife Yvette last night told of his shock at their arrest in Fiji where police allege they are part of a $20 million drug ring.
The couple's luxury yacht SV Shenanigans was raided on Thursday by Fijian police, who allegedly discovered a haul of cocaine and ecstasy. As well as the drugs, ammunition and firearms they failed to declare were discovered by customs officers when they arrived at Denarau Marina.
The Shenanigans had sailed from Bora Bora, in French Polynesia.
The friend is part of the close-knit sailing circles the couple had joined - and he could not believe what was being said about them.
He also revealed Nikolic and his wife spent their final few days before their arrest relaxing on a Pacific atoll where they showed no sign at all of anything being wrong.
Ms Nikolic was arrested and has appeared in court on charges of importing illicit drugs, possession of illicit drugs, and failure to declare arms and ammunition. Her husband wasn't arrested, as he is fighting for life in hospital after drinking a substance in an attempt to self-harm.
The Herald Sun reports that the 45-year-old drank a potentially deadly cocktail believed to have been made of liquid cocaine and methamphetamine, just as customs officers began their raid.
Through her lawyer, Ms Nikolic begged to be able to see her husband - but her pleas fell on deaf ears, local media reported.
Fiji customs seized what they say was 13kg of cocaine, 2kg of ecstasy, as well as the guns and $20,000 in cash.
Speaking to news.com.au last night, the friend said he couldn't believe what was being alleged.
"I am shocked that they would knowingly be involved in drugs," he said.
The friend, who asked not to be identified, had spent time with them on a boat in Australia before their journey so had witnessed their behaviour closely. He worried they had somehow been involved in something sinister - but did not believe the Fijian authorities were involved.
"It's not the Fijians, but maybe the new crew," he suggested. "[I] can't believe they did this. I'd guess there is something else."
Several people had been on the boat as the crew changed in recent weeks. One of the couple's last public posts was a message about looking for "replacement crew".
"We are still looking for suitable replacement crew. We have two possible options so far," the post read.
The Fiji Times reported three men had been arrested, but were released without charge after being questioned.
They advertised several times for crew who they insisted were nonsmokers. No alcohol was to be drunk on-board as it was a "dry boat", the ad said.
The friend said the Nikolics took a short break at a small atoll called Percy Island. They posed for photos in hats and sunglasses and took pictures of the yacht club before setting off for Fiji - and into the path of police.
"It was just a great place to break up long leg from Bora Bora to Fiji. They were there for two nights for R&R."
The Nikolics bought the yacht last year, and on their blog called themselves "newbie" sailors with a "crazy plan" to sail from the US to Queensland.
"Brave and free and wild is the sea," was one early post.
Their Facebook page said they had been "madly in love" for 25 years.
"The love of sailing, however, is a new passion for both of them. This crazy plan has been in the works for about 1½ years. We are newbie sailors and this is our 1st boat," they wrote.
"Steep learning curve you say? Damn straight!"
Many of the posts were accompanied by pictures of the happy couple smiling in the sunshine, with their arms around each other.
One predicted "good things were on their way" while another poignant post said: "Challenge and adversity comes before anything really worthwhile."
Maps that they shared of their journey show that after purchasing the boat they sailed from Colombia in South America to Panama before setting sail across the Pacific.
They then visited French Polynesia, including Bora Bora, before heading towards Fiji earlier this month.
Ms Nikolic was remanded in custody to appear at Lautoka High Court on July 4, the same day as the court will hear an application for the yacht to be released to her.
In 2014, the Nikolics' home was raided by Victoria Police, and they were questioned by detectives investigating the murder of trainer Les Samba, 60, who was shot at point-blank range in Melbourne, in February 2013, reported Herald Sun. They were not charged.
Mr Samba was the father of Victoria Samba, who had been married to brother Danny Nikolic, and detectives had travelled to Sydney and the Gold Coast to interview racing identities.