How accused drug mule Cassie Sainsbury may have been fooled
THE top anti-narcotics cop behind the arrest of Cassie Sainsbury says there is a specific technique drug traffickers use to trick people like her into doing the crime.
Colonel Rodrigo Soler, the commander of the anti-drugs police at El Dorado International Airport in Bogota where the Australian woman was arrested last month, said agents from drug syndicates preyed on people going through financial hardship to transport their drugs overseas.
Ms Sainsbury, 22, was caught with 5.8 kilograms of cocaine found in 18 individually wrapped packages inside her suitcase and was understood to be travelling from Colombia to London.
Ms Sainsbury said she had no idea there was cocaine in her luggage.
After her arrest, it was revealed that Ms Sainsbury left a trail of debt behind in her home town in South Australia, which she fled suddenly after her personal training business failed.
Colonel Soler said economic problems were a key reason drug mules did the crime.
He said traffickers convinced naive people that smuggling the drugs would be easy because staff and police at the airport were in on the job and had been paid off.
"The owner of the drug who convinces the people to smuggle the drugs, he says everything is fixed up. Everything in the airport is fixed. Everything is easy," Colonel Soler told news.com.au in Bogota via a translator.
"Just be quiet; everything has been arranged, both here (in Bogota) and there (at the final destination)."
Colonel Soler said this story, coupled with the mule's economic hardship, meant they "accept easily and then fall into this situation".
"Trafficking takes advantage of innocent people, younger people like Cassandra, also older people."
Ms Sainsbury denies the drugs charges and maintains she was set up by a man she met in Colombia, who she knew only as Angelo.
She says she thought the packages were headphones she had bought for a bargain price to give as gifts at her upcoming wedding.
But Colonel Soler does not buy this story.
"This is what 90 per cent of people who are caught for this kind of crime say," he said. "They say that they were set up, they were trapped, they were cheated, they didn't know about (the drugs).
"They majority also end up accepting responsibility (for the crime) because they say they have economic problems, family problems, they have no job."
Colonel Soler outlined three stages accused drug mules progress through.
The first is the denial phase.
"They say 'I don't know, I was set up'," he said.
Next is the acceptance phase.
"This is the part where they say 'Yes, I did it'. They give justification about why they did the crime."
The last stage is repentance, where the mule expresses regret and castigates themselves for their error in judgment.
During his explanation, Colonel Soler often referred to the mules as "victims".
News.com.au asked whether Ms Sainsbury should be considered a victim also.
"It's true sometimes we see these people like victims," he said.
"Because in fact the drugs are not for them; they, to use a street word, are like a mule; they are for transport only.
"Our target, our aim, is to catch the owner of the (drug trafficking) organisation, the owner of the drug.
"But logically perhaps we see them like victims, unfortunately they committed part of the crime and they must pay."
Colonel Soler said Ms Sainsbury was one of 48 people to have been arrested for smuggling drugs at the airport since the start of the year.
He showed news.com.au photographs of various people who had been arrested, including young women, older women and even an old man in a wheelchair.
Drugs smuggled in headphone cases was not especially remarkable, Colonel Soler said, with cocaine, heroin, LSD and cannabis being hidden in all sorts of ingenious ways, such as in the stalks of flowers or inside coffee beans.
Colonel Soler's officers constantly prowl the airport looking for people who fit profiles of drug smugglers.
For example, if they see someone who has been waiting for a flight for hours but not eaten anything, that could suggest someone who has smuggled the drugs in their stomach.
People acting nervously, people with unusual travel itineraries and those with tatty clothes but a brand new bag also raise red flags.
There was nothing unusual in Ms Sainsbury's behaviour at the airport - Colonel Soler described her as calm and quiet - it was actually a tip from the US Drug Enforcement Agency that aroused suspicions.
The DEA tipped off the Colombian police that an unknown party had bought a plane ticket at the last minute in Hong Kong for Ms Sainsbury to fly from Australia to Bogota via London.
Colonel Solner gave a warning to any Australians who might consider smuggling drugs to make some cash.
"There is a clear message: Crime is crime and if go against rules in a country, you must pay the consequences," he said.
"Don't let yourself be dazzled by the easy money. There is nothing easy about passing drugs.
"Obviously, some of the drugs could pass (through the airport) because they continue trying, but the problems can be solved without taking drugs to other countries.
"On the back of this kind of trafficking, the crimes are connected. You are not only carrying one kilogram of cocaine. On the back of this kilogram, there are environmental crimes, because it's destroying our country, there are family destructions, murders, massacres and human trafficking.
"Logically, in this moment, this person is only trafficking drugs, but all of the crimes that carry on the back of it are bigger.
"The narco trafficking, it's a cancer.
"The what is the message that I can give to all of the people who try to do this? There are alternatives.
"There are more options."
Colonel Soler said agencies were willing to pay rewards for information about drug traffickers.
"Reporting also pays and it is good money," he said.
"So the idea is say no to the drug trafficking. Say no to the destruction of our families, our children. That easy money brings nothing good."