An Adelaide based personal trainer and volunteer firefighter is facing up to 25 years in a Colombian prison after 5.8 kilograms of cocaine was found in her suitcase.
Cassandra Sainsbury was arrested for drug trafficking offences at El Dorado International Airport in Bogotá when she went to catch her flight back to Australia following an eight-day working holiday in Colombia on April 11.
But her family say she is “naive” and had been set up by a man she had met who gave her what she believed was a package of headphones.
Sainsbury’s sister, Khala, told the media that a man she met while travelling offered to bulk buy the headphones cheaply for her, which she wanted as gifts for her bridal party at her upcoming wedding to fiance Scott Broadbridge.
Anyone that knows her would say she is a kind, loving, happy kind of girl.”
“Cassie, being young, said she’d do it. And it came to her already packaged and sealed so she put it straight in her suitcase not thinking,” Khala said. “She’s very naive.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed to HuffPost Australia that they are assisting an Australian woman arrested in Colombia, but declined to give further details “due to our privacy obligations”.
Colombia is the world’s largest cocaine producer, providing more than half of the world’s illicit supply — 487 tons annually. Profits from the drug amount to around 1 per cent of the nation’s GDP and provide livelihoods for around 65,000 farming families in remote areas, according to UN estimates.
But the Government has cracked down on the drug trade in recent years in an attempt to clean up its image, with heavy penalties for those caught trafficking. The maximum penalty for trafficking cocaine is 25 years.
The Adelaide woman’s mother, Lisa Evans, told KIIS FM that Sainsbury is innocent, but is considering pleading guilty to reduce her sentence.
“If she pleads guilty the minimum is six years,” Evans said.
“If Cassie gives information about the person that gave her the package it may come down to four.”
Evans reportedly told Channel Nine’s Today Show she could not believe someone could do this to her daughter.
“Cassie is just, ‘I didn’t do it mum, you have got to get me out’ and crying hysterically,” Evans said.
Sainsbury has been denied bail and is currently in the notorious El Buen Pastor women’s prison, where she is sharing a cell with up to 250 women in squalid conditions. She is due to face trial in two months’ time, her family says.
The 22-year-old’s sister has set up a fundraising page to raise money towards Cassie’s legal costs.
“Cassie would never do anything like what she has been accused off,” Khala wrote on the page.
“Anyone that knows her would say she is a kind, loving, happy kind of girl. She would help anyone out in need.”
But the page has drawn criticism from some posters, who accused the family “begging” for money
After four days, the campaign had only raised $2,610 towards its $15,000 goal.
Cassandra Sainsbury: Accused cocaine smuggler ‘would have known drugs were in her bag’
An Australian woman used unsophisticated methods to try to conceal 18 packets of cocaine in her luggage and her family’s claims she was set up are not believable, Colombian drug authorities say.
- Colombian drug police say Australian woman would have known the drugs were in the bag
- Cocaine in headphones “not really a very sophisticated mode of concealment”
- Cassandra Sainsbury faces up to 20 years in jail
Adelaide’s Cassandra Sainsbury, 22, was arrested minutes before boarding a flight at Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport with 5.8 kilograms of cocaine wrapped in plastics bags and packed within boxes of headphones.
Family of the former personal trainer said she was an unwitting drug mule and the headphones were bought as gifts for bridal party guests.
Colonel Jorge Mendoza, the head of ports and airports for the Colombian drug enforcement police department, dismissed the family’s version of events, saying she would have known the narcotics were in her bags.
“There was not really a very sophisticated mode of concealment,” he said.
“The drugs were wrapped in bags, 18 packets as I said previously, inside her suitcase.
“So, it is difficult to say that she did not know that the substance was inside her suitcase.”
Ms Sainsbury’s sister Khala said the 22-year-old was in Colombia for a working holiday and the headphones were purchased from a contact.
Colonel Mendoza has previously said the arrest came as the result of a tip-off and was indistinguishable from a growing number of drug cases involving foreigners.
Colonel Mendoza has said he was confident the seizure would lead to jail time and depending on the quality of the drugs, the maximum penalty could be 20 years’ imprisonment.
A Colombian lawyer advised the family she plead guilty to reduce the sentence to a possible six years.
Ms Sainsbury’s family has raised thousands of dollars online to fund her legal defence and support her.
Ms Sainsbury has been transferred to the Colombian capital’s notorious El Buen Pastor women’s prison.
Joanna Adams, the daughter of a lawyer who has given legal advice to Ms Sainsbury, has told the ABC’s AM program her father said the Australian “has her up and downs”.
“Some days she’s good and some days she’s very bad,” Ms Adams said.
The 22-year-old was preparing to board a flight to London on her way back to Australia when she was arrested.