Category Archives:Border Controlled Drugs

95 kilos of cocaine in the luggage of just 3 people?

It’s a case that raises more questions than answers.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Australian Border Force (AFB) are claiming that three Canadian tourists carried bags stuffed with 95 kilos of cocaine into Sydney, after apparently having the time of their lives in several South American countries.

They say a law enforcement operation involving agencies from around the world resulted in a raid on the Sea Princess while it was docked in Sydney Harbour.

Officers searched the ship when it berthed, allegedly finding suitcases full of the illegal white powder. It is the biggest seizure of narcotics through a passenger stream into Australia.

The cocaine, with an estimated street value of over $30 million, is said to have been stashed in luggage linked to two women in their 20s and a man in his 60s.

The trio were arrested and charged with importing a commercial quantity of cocaine, an offence which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The Sea Princess travelled from Southampton in England, where the three Canadians boarded, and stopped over at a number of South American countries, including Colombia, Peru and Chile.

The AFP is unable to say whether the drugs were loaded onto the ship during one of those stops, or how the passengers were able to have so much cocaine alongside their ‘regular’ belongings.

International operation led to bust

Law enforcement officials are claiming to have disrupted a major international crime syndicate which they say was attempting to flood Australian streets with illegal drugs, although no further details have been provided. The ship was destined for other ports in Australia, but authorities are unable to say which cities the drugs were ultimately intended for.

The defendants came before Central Local Court where they did not apply for bail, and were formally refused.

Not the first cruise ship seizure

Tim Fitzgerald, the regional commander for the ABF in NSW, says this is not the first cruise ship seizure in our state:

“We had a similar situation last year … but this is the largest,” he said.

He went on to speak of the AFB’s success in seizing drugs:

“Last financial year alone the Border Force intercepted 18,000 [importations of] narcotics at our various borders, international mail centres, airports, sea ports, sea cargo, air cargo — 22.5 tonnes of narcotics… have been detected in two years.”

However, most agree this is a drop in the ocean compared to the overall quantity of drugs imported into Australia.

The three defendants will face court again in October, unless their lawyers make an application for bail beforehand.

Their defence, if they have one, is not yet known – although 95 kilos seems a lot of cocaine unless some other party had a hand in the events.

International Drug Law Treaties: Shaping Domestic Drug Prohibition

Australian states and territories each have their own drug laws – and the Commonwealth Criminal Code provides a national framework for regulating drug trafficking and other drug crimes committed across borders.

But did you know that our local laws – and the drug laws of many other countries around the world – are shaped by international treaties and conventions?

While these treaties are not technically law in Australia, they have had a major influence on laws enacted by our Federal governments.

What Drug Treaties is Australia a Signatory To?

There are three key United Nations treaties which relate to drugs – and Australia is a signatory to all of them. These are:

1. The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961;

2. The Convention on Psychotropic Substances 1971;

3. The United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances 1988.

The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs

Beginning in 1961 with the passage of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the United Nations sought to play a role in the development of international drug laws.

The Single Convention was developed in response to the wide range of new drugs which had come onto the market since the passage of previous treaties, which only regulated commonly known drugs such as morphine, cocaine and heroin.

The Single Convention expanded international drug laws to include cannabis and newly-developed drugs.

The main provision of the Single Convention is Article 36, which requires signatories to enact laws against various drug-related activities, such as cultivation, sale, possession, distribution, importation and exportation, as well as:

‘intentional participation in, conspiracy to commit and attempts to commit, any of such offences, and preparatory acts and financial operations in connexion with the offences referred to in this article.’

The Single Convention was one of the first attempts to ensure uniformity in drug laws around the world, and signatories were required to pass laws in accordance with its provisions.

It has had a major impact on the development of drug laws worldwide; with many countries passing new or updated drug legislation after signing the Convention.

Perhaps most importantly, it was the first piece of international law to prohibit the use of cannabis.

The Convention on Psychotropic Substances 1971

The next important instrument was The Convention on Psychotropic Substances which was drafted in 1971.

Again, this was developed in response to the growing use of drugs such as MDMA, LSD and other newly-discovered hallucinogens and the drugs contained in plants such as psilocybin mushrooms.

Like the Single Convention, the Convention of Psychotropic Substances was passed at a time when governments around the world were becoming concerned at the widespread use of hallucinogens – and actively spreading fear that drugs could cause health risks and an increased propensity to engage in ‘anti-social’ conduct.

The United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances 1988

Passed in 1988, The Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances was the final major piece of international drug law.

This represented yet another attempt to crack down on the use of drugs as the ‘War on Drugs’ waged on – a fact that is noted in the Preamble to the Convention, which discusses the unsuccessful attempts of previous conventions to prevent drug use, and the increase in drug usage and trafficking around the world.

This Convention went a step further than previous conventions, by requiring signatories to enact laws aimed at preventing organised drug crime and confiscating the proceeds of drug-related activities.

It also required signatories to control drug precursors. Significantly, Article 3 states that signatories must take steps to criminalise drug possession, drug purchase and drug cultivation for personal consumption, subject to its constitutional principles and the basic concepts of its legal system.

Do International Laws Pose a Roadblock to Drug Law Reform?

It is possible that our international obligations could hinder moves to decriminalise or legalise certain drugs in the future.

On one interpretation, Article 36 of the Single Convention does not require signatory nations to criminalise drug related activities – but simply requires them to impose adequate punishments for ‘serious offences.’

Furthermore, each Article of the Single Convention contains a caveat to the effect that, if a signatory state’s Constitution conflicts with the provisions of the Convention, the nation’s Constitution would take precedence and the conflicting provisions would not apply.

And in Australia, it is the Federal government which is a signatory to these conventions, rather than state governments. Although most state law generally follows Federal ones, this state governments can still enact laws which conflict with the Convention. The majority of minor drug matters – such as drug possession and supply – are indeed regulated by state laws.

At any rate, it seems that the United Nations may one day repeal its instruments – with the European Parliament recommending that The United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances be done away with, citing the failed war on drugs as evidence that prohibition simply does not work.

However, repealing the Convention may be procedurally difficult because it does not contain a termination clause – meaning that it might need to remain in force until all signatories formally withdraw.

Overseas drug trafficking: What’s important to know

Several Australians have been arrested overseas in the last couple of months for allegedly attempting to traffic drugs to or from Australia.

On 8th November 2014, 22-year-old Sydney woman Kalynda Davis was stopped at Guangzhou International Airport in China allegedly carrying 75kg of methamphetamine in luggage.

She denied having any knowledge of the drugs or how they got there.

Ms Davis had made the trip to China with her boyfriend, Peter Gardner, whom she had met on Tinder just two weeks prior.

She was detained in China for several weeks before finally being released and brought home to Australia last week following negotiations between Chinese officials and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

There are concerns that Ms Davis was recruited by organised crime gangs based in Sydney.

Whilst Ms Davis had a lucky escape, her partner remains in custody at a detention centre in China. If convicted, he could face death by firing squad.

The young couple are not the only ones to have faced drug trafficking charges of late.

On the 7th of December 2014, 51 year-old Sydney woman Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto was stopped at Kuala Lumpur airport after 1.5 kilograms of methamphetamine was found in her luggage.

Ms Pinto Exposto also contends that she was unaware of the presence of the drugs and claims to have been the victim of a drug mule scheme.

Malaysia has harsh penalties for drug trafficking, and if found guilty, Ms Exposto faces death by hanging.

Different cultures, different laws

These are not the only examples of Australians being accused overseas of exporting or importing drugs.

In fact, one-third of all Australians held in overseas prisons last year were there for drug-related offences.

While Australia has relatively moderate penalties for minor drug offences, other countries may have much stricter laws, even for minor possession of drugs like cannabis.

In the United Arab Emirates, you may be charged with drug possession even where illegal drugs are detected in your blood or urine, or where trace amounts are found on your luggage or clothing.

Substances like marijuana can be detected in blood and urine tests for days or even weeks after consumption, so it’s important to be particularly wary when travelling.

In Saudi Arabia, the laws are stricter still – and even extend to alcohol. As a strict Muslim country, the consumption and possession of alcohol is illegal and may attract heavy penalties such as imprisonment or even public floggings.

In some Asian countries such as China, Thailand and Malaysia, being caught with small amounts of drugs can result in lengthy prison sentences without the option of parole – or even the death penalty if you’re particularly unlucky.

It’s estimated that between 2,000 and 15,000 people are executed each year for drug offence in China alone, and tourists are no exception.

In 2009, British national Akmal Shaikh was sentenced to death by lethal injection in China after he was convicted of trafficking four kilograms of heroin.

This was despite pleas of clemency by his family, international humanitarian organisations and British officials, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

In 2012, even the Netherlands introduced a policy to prohibit non-residents from purchasing and consuming cannabis; despite the country’s otherwise liberal approach to recreational drug use.

It’s always best to stay on the safe side, and not buy or consume drugs whilst overseas.

The rise of drug mule scams

We recently published a blog about the increase in drug mule scams of late.

If Kalynda Davis and Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto are being truthful, they may be the latest victims of these scams.

Drug mule scams are often elaborate and target vulnerable individuals through dating sites such as Tinder, or even online competitions.

Scammers will go to considerable lengths to gain the trust of their victims before giving them ‘free luggage’ lined with drugs or otherwise planting drugs on them.

If you are travelling overseas, there are precautions you can take to maximise your chances of avoiding trouble.

Never accept luggage, clothing or other items from anyone else – you never know what’s secretly been secreted into it.

And make sure to always keep an eye on your own luggage – don’t leave it unattended or with other people.

It’s a good idea to put a padlock on your suitcase if you’re checking it in, or to have the luggage wrapped at the airport, and thoroughly check to see whether it has been tampered with when collecting it at the other end.

It’s also important to research the drug laws of any countries that you are travelling to, so that you are aware of the possible consequences of being caught with drugs in your system.

If you or a loved-one ends up in trouble with the law, contact the nearest Australian embassy as soon as possible.

Though consular officials cannot provide legal advice, they can visit detained persons, provide information about the country’s legal systems, refer them to lawyers and notify family and friends.