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Aussie's arrest in Colombia aims light on foreign drug mules

Associated Press logo Associated Press 30/04/2017 By JOSHUA GOODMAN, Associated Press

BOGOTA, Colombia — The family of an Australian woman arrested in Colombia for trying to board a flight with almost 6 kilograms of cocaine is mounting a campaign to defend her against what they consider trumped-up charges.

Cassandra Sainsbury was arrested April 12 at Bogota's international airport after an X-ray machine detected the cocaine hidden in 18 different packages stashed in her luggage. The 22-year-old was preparing to board a flight to London on her way back to Australia.

Her family contends she was set up, but Colombian police said her arrest was undistinguishable from a growing number of drug cases involving foreigners.

The case has garnered media attention in Australia and her family has raised almost $2,000 online to fund her defense.

"Our hearts break, because we know she is innocent, but stands little chance of proving it in such a corrupt country," her sister Khala Sainsbury said in an online post.

Sainsbury said her sister, a personal trainer and volunteer firefighter, was in Colombia on a working holiday. She told The Australian newspaper that while in Colombia, her sister went with a male friend she met before traveling to South America to buy headphones for her upcoming wedding party. The merchandise was purchased from a contact in a pre-wrapped package, her sister said.

Lt. Col. Jorge Triana, head of the antinarcotics police at Bogota's international airport, said Sainsbury's claims that she was deceived are probably untrue and in any case don't excuse her actions.

"Everyone who is caught says exactly the same thing," said Triana, who added that many foreigners are lured by false promises of fast fortunes. "But they know what they're doing."

Colombia is the world's largest producer of cocaine and its police among the best-trained to detect and stop drug smuggling thanks in part to billions of dollars in U.S. anti-narcotics aid that has strengthened law enforcement.

As tourism to Colombia has boomed over the past decade, the country's drug cartels are increasingly recruiting foreigners to smuggle cocaine out of the country. Police have arrested 19 foreign drug mules this year alone, Triana said.

Sainsbury has been transferred to a women's penitentiary in Bogota. If convicted she faces more than 20 years in jail.

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