A WODONGA man involved in two chilling home invasions in the Robinvale area lied about the identities of others in the brazen attacks to protect his girlfriend and another person, a court has heard.
Kia Toumngeun, 43, had told investigators his next door neighbour, Nigel Miller, took part in the second of two armed robberies on rural properties near Robinvale, even though Miller had only taken part in the first home invasion about two months earlier.
The County Court at Mildura heard Asian seasonal workers on the rural property were threatened with weapons during the robbery in April last year, while an elderly woman was threatened with rape if she and her family did not co-operate.
Toumngeun, Stephen John White, 44, and Mac Sikoulabout, 55, were all set to plead guilty to their involvement in the two home invasions on December 18 when White told prosecutors he had more information about who was involved in the attacks.
White made a statement saying Toumngeun’s girlfriend Narelle Carter, 20, and another person had joined him and Toumngeun on their trip from Wodonga to Robinvale in April last year.
They stormed a Kenneth Road property armed with guns and a cattle prod and terrorised the occupants before stealing cash, passports, electronic devices and jewellery.
Just two months earlier, Toumngeun, White, Sikoulabout and Miller had carried out a home invasion on a rural property at Tol Tol, where they found little of value.
The home invasions were the brainchild of Sikoulabout, who was obsessed with the whereabouts of his former partner.
Sikoulabout believed his former girlfriend had gone to Robinvale with another man after suddenly leaving him in December 2015.
White’s statement exonerated Miller from the second home invasion and revealed Sikoulabout had not driven the group to Robinvale the second time but had stayed in Wodonga.
Yesterday, Toumngeun pleaded guilty to the home invasions, two counts of armed robbery, weapons offences and attempting to pervert the course of justice.
Toumngeun’s barrister Jacki Turfrey said her client admitted he had lied about the identity of those involved in the second home invasion after the December 18 plea hearing was aborted.
The court heard Toumngeun, a former Laotian refugee, had a long history of substance abuse and had battled a depressive disorder for about a decade, since separating from the mother of his five children.
“He felt a bit pressured by Mr Sikoulabout who came to him to get him to participate in this crime … but he has accepted that he entered voluntarily to that,” Ms Turfrey said.
White also pleaded guilty to his involvement in the home invasions yesterday and his barrister Ian Polak told the court his decision to turn informer on Toumngeun, Carter and the other co-accused was a sign of his remorse.
"He believed it was the right thing to do; he believed the court was being misled," Mr Polak said.
White had been living with Toumngeun and Carter at Toumngeun's Wodonga home when Sikoulabout was trying to find someone to take part in his plot to carry out armed robberies on rural properties in the Robinvale area.
"I said I was interested because I needed cash to get a car because mine had been stolen," the court heard White told police in an interview.
"I also felt I owed Kia personally for taking me in."
Prosecutor David O’Doherty said without White’s decision to make a statement implicating Toumngeun and the others, Miller faced a serious risk of being sentenced to several years more in jail.
Judge Michael Bourke said the offending was extremely serious, particularly given the vulnerability of the victims, mostly Asian farm labourers who spoke little English.
Toumngeun, White and Sikoulabout, who are all facing a minimum non-parole period of three years, were remanded to be sentenced at a later date.
Meanwhile, Carter has been charged and is due to face a committal mention hearing next month.
Miller has indicated he will plead guilty and is seeking to have his matters heard in the County Koori Court.
Police are yet to apprehend the other co-accused, a Wodonga resident who took part in the second home invasion.
For this story, purchase your copy of Wednesday's Sunraysia Daily 14/02/2018.To subscribe to our Digital Edition Click here