An Albanian refugee living in South Australia has been sentenced after she helped her cheating husband grow cannabis in her house.
Aneta Merkaj appeared in the District Court of South Australia in early May, on charges of cultivating a commercial quantity of a controlled plant and possession of equipment used to produce drugs. She pleaded guilty on both charges, telling the court that she was “sorry to offend so much”.
According to sentencing remarks made by Judge Joana Fuller, Merkaj did not plant the cannabis with the intention to profit. Instead, she had allowed her husband and “possibly others” to grow cannabis in her home in the hopes she could win back his affections after he fathered two children with his mistress.
The court heard that Merkaj, her husband, and their older two children came to Australia after fleeing violence in 2008. Merkaj became very isolated after arriving, as she knew limited English and was confined to the home as per the patriarchal expectations of her background. Judge Fuller described Merkaj as her “husband’s property”.
After finding lipstick on her husband’s shirt, Merkaj learned that her husband was cheating on her. The court was told she initially accepted this, so long as her husband continued to support the family. By mid-2018, however, Merkaj’s husband had fathered two children with his mistress and had left her and their three children “helpless” and “unsupported”.
Merkaj then helped her husband grow cannabis in her spare bedroom in an effort to persuade him to return home. In November 2018, police raided her West Hindmarsh home and arrested her and her husband. They seized 72 cannabis plants, which they valued at up to $457,000. Merkaj would later plead guilty and attempt to “protect her husband” from prosecution. His charges were later dropped.
In court, Judge Fuller described Merkaj’s situation as “unique”.
You are plainly not a criminally minded person, nor someone who would have herself devised such an enterprise. Instead, you are a person who has become completely acclimatised to a role of subservience…
Judge Fuller gave Merkaj a suspended prison sentence of three years, two months and 12 days with a non-parole period of 14 months.