Category Archives:Drug Importation

Australia’s Top Five Drug Busts

Did you know that the largest drug bust in Australia was also the biggest in the world?

Or that the HMAS Newcastle was responsible for seizing over $1 billion of drugs from the high seas this year?

From hiding drugs in tomato cans to smuggling them inside road rollers, these cunning drug traffickers went to extreme lengths in an attempt to reap a princely profit.

Here we outline five of Australia’s biggest ever drug busts.

85.5 Kilos of Cocaine and 192.2 kilos of Methylamphetamine – Street Value $260 million

Canadian man Mark Clermont hatched a plan to get rich quick – but it all ended in disaster when he was charged with importing 85.5 kilograms of pure cocaine and 192.9 kilograms of pure methylamphetamine, with a combined street value of $260 million.

Clermont was recruited to expand the operations of an international drug syndicate into Australia; arriving here in 2010. The elaborate scheme had him working for a seemingly legitimate business that imported tractors, forklifts and other equipment. After two years on the job, the drug syndicate sought to import hundreds of kilograms of drugs inside the barrel of a road roller, in an effort to ‘defeat x-ray examination of the roller by Australian Customs.’

But police became suspicious and dismantled the roller, finding drugs stashed inside. Clermont denied any knowledge or involvement in the scheme, but he was ultimately found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. His associate, Mathieu Horobjowsky, was given a minimum of 13 years behind bars.

724 kilograms of Narcotics – Street Value $597 million

The Navy is tasked with protecting Australia’s border security, and the HMAS Newcastle plays a special role in stopping illegal substances from entering our shores.

This year, the HMAS Newcastle was used to seize 724 kilograms of narcotics from another vessel, with an estimated street value of $597 million. It also seized another 581 kilograms of drugs worth around $520 million earlier in the year.

584kg of Ice – Street Value $438 million

We are constantly being told that an ice epidemic has recently swept through the country, but back in 2013 police made a huge bust in Sydney, preventing 584 kilograms of ice with an estimated street value of $438 million from hitting the streets.

The bust left three men facing lengthy prison sentences after police acted on a call to their Asian Crime Squad.

The resulting four-month investigation culminated in police linking several shipping containers to organised crime, and seizing 38 plastic bags containing a crystalline substance which was later identified as being methylamphetamine.

2.8 Tonnes of MDMA and Methamphetamine – Street Value $1.5 billion

A massive bust involving 2.8 tonnes of MDMA and methylamphetamine worth a record $1.5 billion landed six men before the courts in 2014.

A joint operation involving the AFP, NSW Police and Australian Customs uncovered the consignment inside a German cargo ship container, where they were reportedly concealed amongst furniture.

It is believed that the importation was a combined effort on behalf of various organised crime groups – with international investigations ongoing.

4.4 Tonnes of Ecstasy – Street Value $122 million

Drug busts are becoming more commonplace as police are invested with greater resources as part of the ongoing ‘drug war’.

But the award for the biggest – and most creative – trafficking activity uncovered to date goes to Carmelo Falanga, Jan Visser, Saverio Zirilli and Pasquale Barbaro.

The men were busted in 2007 for attempting to import 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy, with a street value of $122 million, inside 3,000 cans of tinned tomatoes hidden in a shipping container – making it not only the biggest drug bust in Australia, but also the world.

The haul equated to 15 million ecstasy pills. Barbaro, who is linked to the Calabrian Mafia, was handed down a prison sentence of at least 30 years, while Zirilli is expected to spend at least 18 years behind bars. Falanga and Visser received sentences of 16.5 and 8 years respectively.

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.

Mexican Drug Lord Escapes Prison

It’s the real-life version of The Shawshank Redemption: Mexico’s most notorious drug lord has escaped from a maximum-security prison by tunnelling through 1.5km of rubble.

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was reported missing from his cell at the Altiplano Federal Prison on the 11th of June this year.

Investigating authorities searched his cell and found a small gap in the floor of his cell’s shower which led to an elaborate labyrinth of tunnels leading to an abandoned home in the Mexican countryside.

The revelation has sparked contention between US FBI officials and the Mexican government with the US suggesting that the escape sheds light on the extent of corruption in Mexico.

Who is Joaquin Guzman?

Better known as “El Chapo” (‘The Shorty’), Joaquin Guzman was long considered the world’s most powerful drug trafficker and the head of the Sinaloa cartel, which smuggles tonnes of cocaine and other drugs from Mexico into the United States.

Guzman quickly rose through the ranks of the drug trade, kick starting his career in the 1970’s under the eye of Mexican drug lord Hector Palma, and transporting drugs to areas near the US-Mexico border.

From his early years, Guzman adopted a no-nonsense approach to doing business: associates who delivered shipments late or who tried to deceive him were brutally murdered.

This approach won him praise from his superiors, and he soon began working directly for Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, better known as ‘The Godfather,’ who was one of the heads of the Guadalajara Cartel.

After the cartel was infiltrated by the DEA and Gallardo imprisoned, Guzman gained more control and eventually broke away to form the Sinaloa cartel, which controlled certain drug corridors in Mexico.

Throughout the 1980’s, the cartel was responsible for trafficking quantities of marijuana and cocaine from Mexico into the United States using aircraft, tunnels and even packing them into cans of chilli which were then shipped into the US on trains.

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, conflict erupted between the Sinaloa cartel and another cartel, known as the Tijuana cartel, which had also broken off the Gudalajara cartel following Gallardo’s arrest.

This resulted in a brutal war between the two groups, during which several members were killed.

In 1993, the Tijuana cartel attempted to kill Guzman by shooting at a parked car in which he was believed to be hiding, but they were mistaken and ended up killing the Cardinal and Archbishop of Guadalajara, Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo.

The incident sparked a widespread manhunt for the perpetrators, which eventually resulted in Guzman being arrested in Guatemala on 9 June 1993.

He was then extradited back to Mexico where he stood trial for drug trafficking, bribery and criminal association, and was ultimately sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.

A Practised Escapee

Guzman’s recent escape is not his first.

After his arrest and sentencing, Guzman continued to run his drug empire from within maximum security prisons.

He wielded great power and influence inside prison, bribing guards to facilitate his escape.

On 19 January 2001, Guzman hid inside a laundry cart which was smuggled out of the facility by a maintenance worker.

He remained on the run for some 13 years, living in the Sierra Madre mountains.

Authorities finally arrested him on 22 February 2014 after a lengthy operation involving over 65 soldiers, who had been tipped off by members of his security team.

78 people are believed to have played a role in his first escape; including the director of this prison, who is now behind bars himself.

Now You See Me…

After being arrested again, Guzman was sent to a maximum security prison where security measures were ramped up both inside and outside the facility.

He was put in an isolated cell, consisting of a single bed, shower and toilet, and was only allowed out of his cell for an hour each day.

He was charged with drug trafficking and participating in organised criminal activities, and also faced the possibility of being extradited to the US to face further charges.

Despite the extra security measures, Gizman was reported missing last Saturday after he apparently took a shower.

His cell was under 24-hour video surveillance, but the shower area was not being monitored.

After Guzman failed to reappear on camera after two hours, authorities became suspicious and searched his cell.

They found a tunnel which had been dug out underneath his shower, and which led to an abandoned house some 1.5 km away.

The tunnel, located 9 metres underground, had been constructed using high-quality building materials, and had lighting and extraction fans. A motorcycle was also found in the tunnel which Guzman is believed to have used in his escape.

Guzman remains on the run, with a $3.8 million USD bounty for information leading to his arrest.

A National Embarrassment

News of Guzman’s escape has been a source of embarrassment for Mexican President Peña Nieto, who has long spoken of his desire to stamp out corruption.

Guzman’s 2014 arrest had been played up as evidence that Nieto’s government was delivering results in their crackdown on crime, with the President even declaring that a second escape would be “unforgivable.”

But Guzman’s latest escape is a painful reminder that the power wielded by drug lords remains unwavering.

Although the President has since promised to spare no resources in securing Guzman’s re-arrest, he has been widely ridiculed and condemned by US authorities, who had warned Mexican officials that Guzman would try to escape.

US concerns were reportedly ignored, leading some to suggest that corruption remains rampant within all ranks of the political system.

For Mexicans, it is a stark reminder that drug money continues to buy enormous power and influence, even in this day and age.

Sting Operations: Police Putting Innocent Lives in Danger

Covert operations, commonly known as ‘sting’ operations, are sometimes used by police and other law enforcement agencies to obtain evidence of criminal activity.

The words ‘covert operation’ may conjure up images of police going undercover and posing as civilians in the hopes of catching murderers and drug king-pins.

But did you know that police also recruit members of the public to assist with sting operations – even with large-scale, international drug importation cases?

This might sound surprising given the obvious dangers involved – and, indeed, cases over the years illustrate the potential consequences of enlisting the help of civilians in stings.

So when can police recruit civilians for stings, and what are the risks?

Australian Federal Police (AFP) Drug Sting Goes Wrong

Back in 2002, an innocent furniture importer found himself embroiled in an AFP drug sting which went dangerously wrong.

The man, who uses the pseudonym ‘John Mansfield,’ was based in the Northern Territory in 2002 when he was approached by drug smugglers wanting to use his shipping containers to import the drug precursor ‘ephedrine’ from Indonesia into Australia.

Mansfield decided to report the matter to Northern Territory Police, who then referred it to the AFP.

Shortly thereafter, Mansfield was approached by the AFP who asked whether he would comply with the drug smugglers’ request in order to help them to dismantle an international drug-trafficking ring.

The operation required Mansfield to attend secret meetings with AFP officers in the dead of the night, get ‘wired up,’ and eventually travel to Indonesia with a million dollars worth of illegal drugs in his possession and liaise with drug traffickers.

Despite the obvious risks involved, he initially trusted the AFP to keep him safe in the same way that they would protect their own ranks.

After he arrived in Indonesia, Mr ‘Mansfield’ took up residence in an apartment, where the drugs were arranged to be delivered to him by an ‘erratic criminal figure,’ who was high on drugs and paranoid. The drugs were due to be shipped back to Australia under the supervision of an AFP officer, but that officer ended up bailing at the last minute, leaving Mansfield alone in a foreign country with copious amounts of illegal drugs and at the mercy of extremely dangerous individuals.

Mansfield says that the AFP treated him ‘like a throw-away.’

While he eventually managed to return to Australia, Mansfield suffered immensely as a result of his involvement in the operation. His identity was revealed in court proceedings – a case which ended up with the accused being found ‘not guilty’. Following the trial, Mansfield found himself ‘publically outed’ as a police informant and received threats from criminal figures. Fearing retribution, he was forced to move interstate.

Despite Mansfield’s life-changing ordeal, and the fact that he did not receive any training or debriefing, the AFP claimed that the risk to him was ‘assessed and considered to be low.’

Mansfield maintains that he was never offered an apology or any thanks for his efforts in the operation.

NSW Police Accused of Using Kids in Stings

While using an adult in a dangerous sting operation is questionable enough, using young kids in stings would be unthinkable – right?

Just last year, former NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell suggested that kids may be used by police in undercover operations to catch shop owners alleged to have sold alcohol to minors.

In the midst of the state government’s crackdown on alcohol-fuelled violence, the ex-Premier revealed a 16-point plan which included granting police powers to conduct covert operations ‘involving minors or young-looking adults.’

The NSW Police Force refused to deny whether they used children in covert police operations after a media organisation made a request under freedom of information laws to access documents relating to controlled operations.

Police refused the request on ‘public policy’ grounds, claiming that ‘confirming or denying the existence of any such documents would be against the public interest’ as it could identify informants. The decision was heavily criticised by Greens NSW Spokesperson for Police David Shoebridge, who argued that there was a ‘strong public interest’ in revealing whether police are using kids in sting operations.

The obvious risk is that children will be exposed to dangerous situations by reckless police intent on securing an arrest at all costs.

What Does the Law Say About Using Civilians in Sting Operations?

Given the serious dangers involved, one may wonder what protections are granted to civilians who are used by police in sting operations.

In New South Wales, the use of civilians in such operations is covered by the Law Enforcement (Controlled Operations) Act 1997.

Under section 7 of that Act, civilians must not be authorised to participate in controlled operations unless the CEO of the Police Force or relevant body is satisfied that it is ‘wholly impractical’ for a law enforcement officer to participate in the operation, and that it is ‘wholly impracticable’ for the civilian participant to participate in the controlled operation without engaging in that activity.

Incredibly, if a civilian sting operation goes wrong, law enforcement officers such as police are immune from criminal and civil prosecution under the Act. This means that members of the public who suffer injury in the course of the sting are unable to sue authorities – nor can the authorities be criminally prosecuted.

The laws are largely the same in relation to stings authorised by Federal law enforcement agencies.

National guidelines on Commonwealth controlled operations state that civilians may only be used in stings where their role ‘could not adequately be performed by a law enforcement officer’ – for instance, where the civilian is known to the suspect, or where they have a unique skill or knowledge.

The Problems With Sting Operations

The Wood Royal Commission into the NSW Police Service in the 1990’s identified several areas of concern surrounding sting operations.

In particular, the Commission raised concerns about the extent to which law enforcement agencies escape liability after they have clearly committed criminal offences in the context of a sting.

As detailed in the Commission’s Final Report:

‘it is undesirable for the courts to be placed in a position where an expectation arises that they will… turn a blind eye to this form of conduct or… be given a delegated responsibility to ‘excuse’ criminal conduct.’

But far from recommending that these agencies be held accountable under criminal or civil law, the Commission simply recommended the enactment of legislation which would ‘introduce a greater degree of regularity and certainty into undercover operations.’

A number of administrative measures were adopted following this recommendation, including the requirement that sting operations must be documented and that approval must be sought before they are commenced. As long as these guidelines are followed, the Commission legitimised the immunity of law enforcement officers from both civil and criminal liability.

But despite the basic nature of the requirements, there are concerns that they are being breached without consequences. A report released in 2012 by the NSW Police Force suggests that there are ‘significant delays’ with police officers providing reports on undercover operations to the Police Commissioner and NSW Ombudsman; which indicates that they are being prepared after the operation has occurred, rather than before as required. This supports the contention that there is a ‘complete absence of oversight’ when it comes to police sting operations.

Are drug raids really a deterrent to crime? Is the cost to the community justified?

Highly publicised police raids are increasingly common and they are often reported as leading to significant reductions of drugs on the streets, keeping our communities safer and disrupting the supply of drugs into Australia. Drug raids can lead to arrests and harsh penalties. But they can be extremely expensive for taxpayers, and a recent report has shed doubt on how effective they really are when it comes to reducing drug-related arrests and overdoses over the long term.

Last month, police announced the second largest drug bust in Australian history in western Sydney, allegedly seizing an estimated 2.8 tonnes of illegal drugs found to have been imported in a shipping container. The drugs were estimated to be worth $1.5 billion, and allegedly included ecstasy and methamphetamine. The raids were the results of an international investigation spanning several months, and resulted in six men being charged. NSW Premier Mike Baird commented on the raid, saying that it had potentially saved lives, as the drugs would now not be distributed on the streets, especially during the summer party scene. Another recent drugs raid in Queensland saw an estimated $400,000 worth of drugs allegedly seized in a single operation.

But what effect will these highly publicised raids really have on the overall rate of drug harm and use within the community? Police may talk about keeping drugs off the street, and push the benefits of large-scale drugs raids, but research from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) rsuggests that there is no link between big drugs hauls and a reduction in drugs harm in the community.

What the report reveals

The report from BOCSAR looked at the effects of police drugs raids on arrest rates and overdose rates from drugs over a 10-year period. It found that there was no link between police raids and a reduction in the number of overdoses and arrests for drugs offences over the decade leading up to 2011.

Although the police have often claimed that raids mean there are fewer drugs on the street, this would appear not to be the case. The results of the study actually suggest that the link between the number of drugs on the streets and police raids works the other way, with raids being an indication that there were more drugs available in the community, instead of disrupting the supply.

The study also noted that the strongest link between raids and drug harm actually showed that overdoses and arrests went up, not down after big seizures. Dr Don Weatherburn, director of BOCSAR, noted that police were finding more drugs in raids recently because a higher number of drugs were coming into the country, not because they were taking a large portion of drugs out of circulation.

The study looked at the months following large seizures and found that with a few exceptions, the number of drugs available remained the same and there was no reduction in the use of amphetamines, heroin or cocaine. The exceptions were three cocaine raids undertaken in 2010 that resulted in the seizure of almost 700 kg of cocaine. There was a temporary reduction in cocaine overdoses and arrests for possession and use after the raids, but the rate subsequently rose back to normal over time.

Are drug raids a waste of time?

Dr Weatherburn noted that he didn’t believe drug raids were a waste of time, stating that although they didn’t have the effect they were often assumed to have, the threat of raids and high penalties was enough to deter many dealers from getting involved in drug-crime unless they were going make a significant profit out of it. This, he believes, keeps the street price of drugs higher and makes it harder for people in the community to access drugs. He said that it would be more disruptive to the overall presence of drugs in the community if five drugs traffickers were arrested with one kilo of drugs each, than one trafficker with five kilos.

Big drug raids may get a large amount of publicity, but are they really helping the community? It would seem that when it comes to reducing the level of harm caused by drugs, large-scale raids may not be the answer and they could even potentially lead to other problems.

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.

The Prevalence of Drug Mules: Eleven Year Old Girl Forced by her Father to Swallow 104 Cocaine-Filled Capsules

The term ‘drug mule’ often refer to a vulnerable or foolish person used by large-scale drug suppliers to transport drugs from one place to another, usually across borders.

Although drug transporters should normally take some responsibility for accepting the job, one Colombian case has called this into question due to the young age of the mule.

An eleven-year-old girl recently became Colombia’s youngest person to be charged after being used as a drug mule.

Her own father forced her to carry 104 cocaine-filled capsules in her stomach, which is equivalent to 500 and 600 grams.

The girl is currently in hospital in intensive care and Colombia has offered $10,000 for the capture of her father.

It appears that the girl was supposed to carry the drugs inside her from Colombia, where she was spending the weekend with her father, to Europe where she lived with her mother.

Instead, the girl was rushed to the hospital before boarding the plane.

Needless to say, the girl was not charged with any offences.

If she had been charged, she would almost certainly have raised the defence of ‘necessity’ and avoided a conviction anyway.

Many Colombians (and readers around the world) have been shocked and outraged by the 11-year-old’s case, and while Colombia, along with Peru, are the world’s largest producers of cocaine, activity by drug mules is also carried out right here in Australia.

75 year old Stelios Macris was charged with the commercial supply of prohibited drugs when his own son, Alex Macris, used him to unwittingly transport over 50 kilograms of meth oil – which can be used to make ice – in his Ford Falcon station wagon to the Central Coast.

Stelios believed the jerry cans contained petrol.

Whether or not he would have been found guilty and locked away for a long time will never be known for sure because Alex saved his father by admitting he was responsible.

But if Stelios had been charged, the prosecution would certainly have had to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he had knowledge that the drugs were there, or that he was at least reckless to that possibility.

His son Alex admitted that what he did to his father was a “low, dog act”, and that he only did it because he never thought police would have pulled over his unsuspecting father, who had never had a problem with the law.

Australians have also been targeted by international drug cartels who intend to smuggle enormous amounts of methamphetamine into Australia from Canada.

One unsuspecting and elderly Perth couple almost found themselves in lot of trouble when they ‘won’ a holiday to Canada, completely unaware that they were to be used in order to smuggle drugs back into Australia.

The couple was presented with a free, all-expenses-paid holiday, which included accommodation and new suitcases.

But on their return they began to have an inkling that something was not quite right after noticing that their luggage felt heavier.

The couple alerted authorities.

It turned out that their hunch was correct, as seven million dollars worth of drugs was hidden in their ‘winning suitcases’.

Each suitcase contained 3.5 kilograms of pure methamphetamine in rock form hidden inside.

Police were able to eventually capture a man waiting at the airport to collect the couple.

After searching his car and hotel room, police also found two other suitcases that were suspiciously similar to the ones that had been given to the couple.

Police had never seen any other similar schemes of this size but wonder how long similar operations have been going on, undetected.

Australian Federal Police Commander David Bachi has warned the community to exercise caution when given such ‘prizes’.

The 64-year-old wife of the couple, who only wants to be identified as Sue, was horrified that the scam could have put her and her husband in such grave danger of prison.

Drug importation is punishable by very lengthy prison sentences, potentially even life imprisonment.

She warned any other people who win competitions to be wary.

Fortunately for her and her husband, no suspicion was attached to them, but unfortunately this cannot be said for all who have drugs planted on them.

What can I do if I have been charged because the drugs were planted on me?

Having drugs planted on you does not automatically make you guilty of a criminal offence.

As already stated, for you to be found guilty the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that you were aware of the presence of drugs, or at least suspected it.

However, being arrested and put through criminal proceedings can take a heavy personal toll, and there is never any guarantee that you will be believed.

Being used as a drug mule has severe and potentially life-altering consequences.

As can be seen from the Stelios Macris case, it is entirely possible to become an unwitting victim of a ‘dog act’.

The law says that if you were unaware that the drugs were planted on you, or you suspected drugs may have been planted on you but after a thorough search could find nothing, you will not be held criminally liable.

This is significant, because even if you had a suspicion that drugs may have been planted on you – as did the elderly couple from Western Australia – and do not check, you may still be found guilty.

If you have been victim of drugs planted on you, or been used as a drug mule and are now facing legal charges, speak to an experienced drug lawyer immediately.

As outlined above, the penalties can be severe and can have a long-lasting impact on your life.

Your freedom could be at stake and it is simply not worth taking the risk.

A specialist drug lawyer who has experience at forcing the prosecution to prove their case and at building rock-solid defences will give you the best chance of a quick and happy outcome.

What are Proceeds of Crime?

You may remember when the news reported that Shapelle Corby was unable to sell her story to the press, because it would be considered as the proceeds of crime.

Current laws mean they do not allow a person to profit from their crime.

If you have been convicted of a serious offence like drug trafficking the court may make an order that your property will be confiscated, freeze your assets or a make a pecuniary penalty order – meaning you have to pay an amount proportionate to the profit gained to the Commonwealth.

When a person is convicted of a drug trafficking offence, the court will look at what benefits they gained from doing so, and can order the equivalent to be paid.

There are two ways that authorities can confiscate property connected with the proceeds of crime:

  • Conviction-based recovery – through the criminal system, after a person has been convicted
  • Non-conviction-based recovery – using the civil system, where a conviction is not needed. Because the level of proof required in a criminal trial is higher, it can be easier to get a successful outcome for authorities using civil recovery

However in Victoria, the law recently got a whole lot stricter.

Under new laws introduced earlier this year, people who have been convicted of commercial drug trafficking offences stand to lose not only the proceeds of their crime, but all their property.

Under those laws, wealthy drug traffickers could be left with nothing more than basic household goods and a modestly priced car.

However these new laws in Victoria only target the people at the top of the drug trade – not street dealers, but those who have large quantities of at least two drugs.

The Attorney-General Robert Clark believes that taking a tough line with criminals is appropriate – that those who have inflicted misery on the lives of others through drug addiction deserve to lose everything they own, not just that which is connected with the drug trade.

But confiscation of property is not merely a penalty, or a legal enforcement of the ‘crime doesn’t pay’ principle.

It is also a way for states to recoup some of the money they have spent enforcing the law as well as being channelled back into the community such as graffiti removal, police and youth funding, people trafficking and labour exploitation projects.

It is a key way to ensure that the funds are not available to perpetuate further crimes.

Each year millions of dollars are confiscated from offenders, and the amount taken from drug offenders by far outnumbers the other offences combined.

Property that was used in connection with the commission of an offence, known as ‘tainted property’, can also be confiscated: for example a car used to distribute drugs.

In one case where cannabis was grown on a family farm, the court found that the property was liable to forfeiture.

The court can look not only at money but other property, including anything transferred to the suspect during the six years prior to the date when proceedings begun.

Even if you did not take part in a crime but were found to have dealt with the proceeds you could be facing a confiscation order, or even one of a range of State and Commonwealth criminal charges, including:

  • Dealing with property suspected of being proceeds of crime – maximum penalty of 2 years prison
  • Dealing with property that subsequently becomes an instrument of crime – up to 15 years prison,
  • Money laundering – up to 20 years prison

You could even be charged for allowing someone to put large amounts of money in your bank account that you knew or suspected could have come from drug supply, even if you received no benefit at all.

Even putting assets under the name of a family member will not mean they are out of the reach of the court when they are making confiscation or freezing orders.

If you believe you could be facing a confiscation order for the proceeds of your crime, getting legal advice as soon as possible is essential.

A specialist drug lawyer will be able to help prove that your assets came from legitimate funds, or perhaps argue that the amount the prosecution wants you to forfeit is disproportionate.

Eight people charged with importing drug precursors: what does the law say about drug importation?

In an incident last month, police charged eight people with drug and firearm importation offences.

Police allegedly seized 10kg of ‘phenyl-2-propanone’ or ‘P2P’, which is a crucial ingredient used to manufacture crystal methamphetamine, or ‘ice’.

The seizure is the largest of it’s kind from the Torres Strait.

Drug importation into Australia is not a new industry, but there have been concerns that it is a growing one, particularly from South American cartels who have set their eyes on the lucrative Australian market.

Despite a traditionally strong stance against drugs taken by governments around the world, the practice is far from being stamped out.

Drug importation is a serious crime which carries the potential of a lengthy prison sentence, up to a maximum of life imprisonment for very large quantities.

Even small importations are treated seriously by the courts.

Drug importation is broken down into three broad categories:
1. Importing any quantity
2. Importing a marketable quantity
3. Importing a commercial quantity

Importing any quantity:

If the prosecution cannot prove the quantity, or id the amount is less than a marketable quantity, then you may be charged with importing any quantity.

The maximum penalties are ten years imprisonment and/or a $220,000 fine.

Over half of all people who are convicted of importing any quantity will receive a prison sentence.

Importing a marketable quantity:

The next category is importing a marketable quantity of drugs.

What constitutes ‘a marketable quantity’ depends on the type of drugs involved: for example, for cannabis this amount is 25 kilograms, but for ecstasy it is 100 grams.

The maximum penalty is 25 years imprisonment and/or a fine of $550,000.

99% of people who are convicted of this offence will spend time in jail.

Importing a commercial quantity:

Importing a commercial quantity is the most serious category and carries the maximum penalty of life imprisonment and/or a $825,000 fine.

All of those convicted spent time behind bars, with the average sentence being eight years with a six year non-parole period.

Drug importation is a federal offence, and drug offences are one of the most common types of offences dealt with in higher courts in Australia.

Because importation charges are so serious, the chances of having evidence kept out of the courtroom or having charges dropped is lower than for less serious offences.
Illegally obtained evidence may often be prevented from working against a defendant.

This is often the case for drug possession or small drug supply cases.

But in commercial drug cases or drug importation cases, it is less likely that courts will exclude evidence even if it was illegally obtained.

Courts have stated that the extent of the illegality must be substantial before the evidence of drugs will be excluded in these types of cases.

The more serious the offence, the more likely it is that the law will allow the evidence to be used in court despite police impropriety.

While engaging a specialist drug lawyer may not be cheap, it should be weighed up against what is at stake in a commercial drug case.

The high chance of going to prison if convicted, and the complexity of commercial drug cases, may well justify the cost because a top drug lawyer will often be able to have cases dropped due to a substantial impropriety on the part of police or thrown out of court due to insufficient evidence (eg lack of proof of knowledge or exclusive possession), or by finding inconsistencies, available defence/s, continuity issues or other problems in the prosecution case.

Drug law is a highly specialised are and one which is best dealt with by criminal lawyers with specialist experience and up-to-date knowledge of the rules and procedures that apply to drug offences, and who deal with drug cases on a daily basis.

A good drug lawyer will be able to provide you with likely outcomes of your case, advice on how to plead as well as information about possible defences, ways to challenge or get police evidence kept out of court and how to ensure the best possible result in your particular case.

The Potentially Fatal Consequences of Global Drug Scams

The death penalty has not been used in Australia since 1967, but that doesn’t mean Australians are immune from the risk of execution if they are convicted of committing a crime overseas.

Travelling to a country where the death penalty is still in force can leave anyone convicted of an offence punishable by death vulnerable, even where the legal grounds would be considered shaky by an Australian court.

To date, four Australians have been executed overseas in the last 30 years, with a further two on death row.

One of the most common reasons for Australians to face the death penalty is if they are found guilty of drug charges in a country where these offences are punishable by death.

There have been a number of well-publicised cases in Bali and Indonesia where Australians have been sentenced to long-term imprisonment, or placed on death row for bringing in large quantities of drugs – even in cases where they denied having knowledge of the drugs and the evidence against them was scanty at best.

Recently, an unknown number of Australians were arrested in China on drug trafficking charges.

These recent arrests have led the Australian Government to issue warnings about possible scams and the potential for Australians to inadvertently become drug couriers without their knowledge.

In recent months, Chinese authorities have arrested more than 100 foreign nationals in the southern province of Guangdong after highly involved police investigations, prompting suspicions of a business-related drug courier scam.

How widespread are drug mule scams?

With penalties for drug possession and trafficking so severe in many countries, drug traffickers often resort to duping or persuading other people to import drugs for them by carrying them on their person, or in their bags.

There have been a number of different scams organised by criminal gangs over the past year, targeting everyone from the elderly, to lonely singles looking for romance.

Earlier this year, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) issued a warning that drug scams targeting Australian travellers were on the rise.

This came after a Canadian-based organised criminal gang tricked an elderly couple into bringing seven kilos of the drug ice into Perth in 2013.

In this elaborate drug mule scam, retirees were encouraged to enter an online competition to win an overseas holiday, along with accommodation and new luggage.

Drugs were then hidden in the luggage, with the suitcases either being swapped after the travellers returned, or forcibly taken and the victims intimidated into not reporting the matter to police.

A Canadian gang member was eventually arrested and charged over the scam.

Dating sites are another common source of drug mule scams.

Dating scams received widespread attention after the arrest of a Canadian woman in 2012 in Peru on drug smuggling charges.

The 59-year-old woman, who worked as a security guard in Windsor, Ontario, claims she was the victim of an elaborate dating scam involving a British man and that the drugs were given to her sewn into the lining of a suitcase containing documents.

She is currently serving a seven-year sentence in a Peruvian prison.

Drug syndicates are also believed to be targeting Australian singles, operating a number of scams through well-known dating websites.

According to Australian Customs and Border Protection Service regional director Tim Fitzgerald, these scams usually work by targeting singles aged between 30 and 55.

The scammers spend months corresponding with victims to gain their trust.

The victim will then arrange to meet the scammer, who will often pay to fly them out to South America or Asia, and cover all their costs.

After a few weeks of spending time with them, the victim’s ‘date’ gives them a package or other item to take with them when they return to Australia ‘for a friend’.

The item is usually laced with drugs, or the victim might be given a piece of stolen jewellery to take out of the country.

Nobody is immune to becoming the victim of a drug scam either, with a 71-year-old Japanese senator recently charged with drug trafficking after he was found with 3.3 kilos of methamphetamine hidden in his suitcase and the soles of shoes he was carrying in the case.

The suitcase had been given to him by business associates from Nigeria and Mali.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The price for becoming a drug mule can be high in many countries, and can include long-term imprisonment and even the death penalty.

Warnings given to Australians travelling overseas focus on being aware of the possibility of having drugs planted on you, and never offering to carry something for someone else, no matter how trustworthy they might seem.

As many countries have harsh drug policies and different legal systems, claiming that you didn’t know the drugs were there may not always be enough to get you off the hook.

Unfortunately for many unsuspecting Australians, a holiday or potential romance can lead to long-term jail time or worse if they are not aware of the possibility of these scams.