Australians have become accustomed to spectacular falls from grace by some of our most prominent sporting stars, but few rival the demise of Nathan Baggaley, who awaits sentence for his part in a plot to import 650kg of cocaine into Australia.
A kayaking world champion and two-time Olympic silver medallist, 45-year-old Baggaley and his brother Dru, 39, were found guilty on April 1 after a trial where it was heard they attempted to import the huge haul of cocaine worth up to $200 million into Australia in July 2018.
At his height: Nathan Baggaley receives the silver medal in the K1-500m at the 2004 Olympics
Nathan Baggaley leaves Sydney Local Court in 2015 after pleading guilty to drugs charges
Baggaley won three world titles in the K1-500m event and was recognised as one of the finest and most powerful paddlers of his generation
Nathan Baggaley, who won silver medals in the K-1 and K-2 500m events at the Athens Olympics, was found guilty of purchasing a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) and other electronic equipment which Dru and another man, Anthony Draper, used on a sea voyage to rendezvous with a South American ship off the coast of northern NSW.
Dru and Draper were surveilled all the way on the journey by Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Force, Queensland Police and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.
A subsequent high seas pursuit was captured on video with Dru seen throwing packages of cocaine overboard before they were apprehended.
Dru Baggaley was a talented rugby forward before his entry into the world of illegal drugs
The boat purchased by Nathan Baggaley, shown during the pursuit at sea by authorities
Drug Baggaley (left, in hood) and Anthony Draper are stopped by specialist members of the Queensland Police Force as they attempted to bring their haul back to shore
The guilty verdict caps a horror 15 years for Nathan, the son of a northern NSW oyster farmer with a freakish talent for paddling a narrow kayak through the water at great speed.
His descent into a world of drug use and trafficking has seen him lose his partner, his child and his sporting career.
The Baggaleys grew up in northern NSW, the sons of hardworking oyster producer Noel and his wife Susan, who did what normal Aussie country kids did – surfed, played footy, chased girls.
Dru, younger but bigger and broader than Nathan, was a decent rugby forward, playing with Ballina and later Byron Bay.
As Nathan admitted in a 2016 interview with The Sunday Telegraph, he may be older but younger brother Dru was more ‘dominant’.
‘He’s a very likeable guy and he’s a very strong personality,’ Nathan said. ‘I’m less aggressive, less open to conflict.’
Daily Mail Australia observed this dynamic first-hand one day of the trial when parents Noel and Susan were attending. Before proceedings began for the day, Dru spoke to his parents in forceful terms from the dock about the case. Nathan waited until he finished and then asked them quietly about the family’s dogs and the trip up from northern NSW to the court in Brisbane.
In 2005 Nathan tested positive to steroids stanozolol and methandienone, after drinking from a bottle he said was owned by Dru.
In 2006 he was suspended from his sport for 15 months, but the ban was later extended to two years – ruining his preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Nathan had pinpointed the extension of his suspension for the positive test in 2007 as the beginning of his entry into the drug world.
‘I lost faith in the system. I knew I hadn’t cheated, yet I was deemed a cheat,’ Nathan said in 2016. ‘I lost that regimen, I lost routine. I was like, “What do I do now?”
‘My life changed that day.’
A member of the Queensland Joint Organised Crime Taskforce photographs some of the packages seized from the boat piloted by Draper and accompanied by Dru Baggaley
Baggaley and partner Clint Robinson (left) take silver in the K2-500m event at Athens, 2004
During the enforced time away from his sport, it was Dru who suggested they put money into an MDMA network supplying the party scene on the Gold Coast and Byron Bay, Nathan said.
The sorry result of this enterprise was Nathan’s conviction in 2009 after pleading guilty to manufacturing 1,509 tablets of MDMA and two counts of supplying a prohibited drug. Nathan was sentenced to nine years in jail, with a non-parole period of five years.
Dru pleaded guilty to manufacturing 13,500 tablets of MDMA and one count of supply, and was sentenced to eight to 12 years. Both were out earlier after appeals.
Even in prison Nathan couldn’t stay out of trouble, being charged with possession of steroids while in Cessnock Correctional Centre.
Released in 2011, Nathan said it was Dru – while still in prison – who involved him in a plan to manufacture the party drug 2C-B (still legal at the time) and methamphetamine through drug labs at Tweed Heads and on the Gold Coast.
Within two years, Nathan was arrested by Australian Federal Police and charged with a variety of drug offences, including conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug into Australia.
He pleaded guilty to drug manufacturing and conspiracy charges in 2015 and went back to prison. Dru was also sentenced to two years.
The cocaine, sourced from a rendezvous with a South American ship, had an estimated street value of $200 million
Anthony Draper, the man who drove the boat, was the mastermind of the plot to collect the drugs offshore, alleged Dru Baggaley’s defence team
‘I’m extremely embarrassed to be honest, to say the least,’ Nathan told the judge before sentencing. ‘I’m really sorry about it.’
Once again, Nathan mentioned helping out his brother as the reason for his involvement in the scheme, describing it as a ‘last resort’ to help Dru raise money for a reason never disclosed to the court.
A text message Nathan’s then partner Emeree sent him was revealed after the 2013 bust. It read in plain terms: ‘U have thrown away a life with ur son so you can live like some drug lord batchaclor (sic) in ur own sad little world.’
Nathan was released at the end of 2016 but not before having his term extended by a month after a mobile phone hidden inside a hollowed-out loaf of bread was found in his possession while inside Grafton Jail.
He was barely out of prison a year before he and Dru were involved in a new scheme – smuggling a $200 million payload of cocaine into the country via the Brunswick Heads boat ramp in northern NSW.
Nathan’s defence in court was that he had no knowledge the $107,000 RHIB, which he also equipped with a navigation system and a satellite phone, would be used for the purpose it eventually was. Instead, he said, he believed Dru was going to launch a whale-watching enterprise on the NSW north coast.
Instead, the prosecution alleged, Nathan had bought the boat specifically for the mission, covering its rego number in black tape and driving it to Brunswick Heads to await the return of Dru and Draper from the mission.
It produced an encrypted phone message from Nathan to Dru, using the pseudonym ‘Thunderbutt’, in which he told his brother, ‘I’m on standby ready. Let me know what’s’ as Dru made his way back to shore with Draper before the authorities intervened.
Nathan Baggaley’s fall from grace is one of the more dramatic in the history of Australian sport
Dru, for his part, argued in court that he believed he and Draper were picking up tobacco, not cocaine, at sea and that Draper was the instigator of the whole plan.
None of it washed. Both brothers shook their heads and flushed red as the forewoman of the jury of 10 woman and two men read out the guilty verdicts on April 1.
Nathan’s silver medal-winning companion in the K2-500m at Athens, Clint Robinson, refused to comment when contacted by Daily Mail Australia, saying only that Nathan’s story ‘had moved into another realm’.
Nathan’s sentence was due on May 10 but had been delayed due to a last-minute review of the case. Whatever stretch he serves, an Olympic champion’s life and legacy has been left in tatters.
Descent of a Champion
1997: Announces himself as a force in kayaking when he comes second to Olympics Gold medallist Clint Robinson in the K1 1000m race at the Australian Sprint Championships.
1998: Baggaley beats Robinson to become Australian 1000m champion, ending Robinson’s seven-year title reign.
2000: Baggaley is selected for the Sydney 2000 Olympics in the K1 500m event but loses to Bulgarian Petar Merkov, a suspected drug cheat.
2001: Cleo Bachelor of the year finalist.
2002: Wins the first of three consecutive world championships in the K1 500m race at Seville, Spain.
2004: Wins two silvers in the K1 500m and K2 500m (with Clint Robinson) at the Athens Olympics.
2005: Test positive to steroids, which he blames on drinking from a bottle of juice owned by his brother Dru.
2006: Suspended for 15 months by the Court of Arbitration and Sport, who accept his excuse.
2007: The suspension increased to two years as Baggaley prepares for the 2008 Olympics.
2009: Nathan and Dru receive jail sentences for a pill-making operation.
2015: Jailed again for two years for multiple drug offences.
2018: Arrested along with brother Dru and boat driver Anthony Draper for his involvement in a plot to import $200 million worth of cocaine into Australia.
2021: Found guilty of his involvement in the plot, alongside Dru.