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.