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Advice that could have helped young Aussie woman

May 3, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

A young Adelaide woman who has been arrested in Colombia on suspicion of drug trafficking appears not to have heeded some fundamental Australian government travel advice.

Cassie Sainsbury, 22, was arrested after being found in possession of 5.8 kilograms of cocaine at El Dorado International Airport in Bogota on 12 April 2017.

If charged and found guilty, Sainsbury could face up to 25 years in a notoriously harsh Colombian prison. If she pleads not guilty, it could be three or four years before her case is even heard.

Sainsbury’s mother maintains that her daughter was given a package she thought contained headphones before stowing it in her luggage. Family members told ABC News Sainsbury was “naive” when a man she had recently met gave her a package.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) warns all travellers: Do not carry anything for someone else while travelling. Do not leave your bags in public areas or in the care of a stranger. Lock your luggage as a precaution against tampering and theft.

“Make sure that you are aware of the contents of all of your bags, particularly when crossing international borders.

“When travelling always check your baggage for signs of tampering when retrieving your baggage from carousels or hotel staff. Be wary of offers of new luggage or when using bags that do not belong to you.”

In recent decades drug wars, particularly involving cocaine, have come close to ripping Colombia apart. The country is now headed towards a brighter future and tourism is climbing, but a Transnational Institute study of Drugs and Democracy confirms that people charged under Colombia’s drug laws can expect little mercy.

  • Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long prison sentences under harsh conditions.
  • Serious offenders must remain in the country to serve a lengthy parole period, during which they are given no housing and may lack permission to work — as they are neither a citizen nor a resident.
  • Family members must often support the offender, sometimes for more than a year, until the parole period expires.
  • Drug crimes account for the third most common reason for imprisonment in Colombia.
  • Between 42% and 48% of the country’s female prison population are behind bars having been accused of drug offences.

Cassie Sainsbury in handcuffs with seized cocaine in this photo released by the National Police of Colombia


DFAT is providing consular advice in the latest case. Generally, Australian consular officials in such cases can:

  • Visit the detainee as soon as permission is granted by the local authorities.
  • Provide general information about the local legal system and a list of English-speaking lawyers.
  • Notify family and friends of the detainees situation (subject to the detainees consent).
  • Assist the detainee to maintain contact with their family and, if requested, help them receive funds from their family and friends.
  • Object to authorities if the detainee is treated less favourably than local citizens arrested for similar offences.
  • Raise any medical or dental problems to the attention of the prison doctor/dentist.
  • Attend the detainee’s trial in court as an observer with the approval of the local authorities.

Australian consular officers do not:

  • Provide legal advice.
  • Organise an Australian’s release from jail, arrange bail, pay fines, conduct investigations related to an offence.
  • Obtain better treatment than that provided to the country’s own citizens or to other nationals.

Written by Peter Needham

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