Source: Asia Pacific Lawyers Network.
“Evidence is mounting of increasing numbers of internet romantics and international travellers risking their lives after being deceived, coerced and ultimately exploited by sophisticated international drug cartels,” New Zealand death penalty defence barrister, Craig Tuck said today.
“The cartels willingly sacrifice, for profit, drug carriers (often referred to as ‘mules’) in countries where execution is a potential sentence for those caught transporting,” he said.
“The ‘mules’ or disposable people – are essentially treated as a renewable resource in the drug supply chain, where they are quickly and easily replaced – if caught and executed as part of the so called ‘war on drugs’,” Mr Tuck said.
Mr Tuck is part of MULE, a new group of lawyers, internet scam victims, cybercrime and media specialists working to track down and expose scams that are resulting in an increasing number of people facing execution in the Asia Pacific.
Mr Tuck is directly involved in three death penalty cases in Indonesia and China, and advising on several others, which he says appear to be the tip of a vast and emerging iceberg, where new and frightening drug supply chain exploitation is occurring.“Drug scams can embroil all manner of deception. Often they involve a suggested rendezvous with an internet lover, but not before sourcing ‘documents’, clothing or equipment in a secondary country, enroute, for the loved one. This is when drugs are often secreted into the exploited person’s possessions,” Mr Tuck said.
One of Mr Tuck’s most recent clients, New Zealander, Antony De Malmanche, recently received a 15-year prison term for trafficking 1.7kg of crystal methamphetamine into Bali. His defence team argued that he was a victim of human trafficking and provided detailed information about the drug cartel that exploited him at trial.
“Mr De Malmanche, who has a mental health history, was looking for love on the internet when “Jessy Smith” began grooming him with 450 pages of online exchanges. Mr De Malmanche was then offered an expenses paid trip to meet her and detoured to Guangzhou, China, where he was asked to carry a bag for her, before flying on to Bali where the drugs were found concealed in his luggage,” Mr Tuck said.
“Jessy Smith has never been caught and now appears in a number of other scams that are getting global attention,” he said.
Australian jockey, Anthony Bannister, is on death row in China for possession of the drug ‘ice’ found inside his luggage. He is thought to be a victim of an elaborate scam involving documents needed to divorce a Filipino woman; he had met and married in Japan. Mr Bannister is said to suffer from a low IQ.
And Australian grandmother Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto is another suspected romance scam victim now facing execution by hanging in Malaysia after being found with 50 grams of methamphetamines in a bag she says was handed to her at Shanghai airport. Mrs Pinto Exposto said she believed the luggage contained retirement documents for her US soldier internet paramour and willingly passed the baggage through a detector despite no custom officer requesting her to do so. The United States military is warning that soldiers’ identities are increasingly being stolen as part of such online romance scams,” he said.
New Zealander, Sharon Armstrong, who is now a part of MULE, was also caught by the internet romance ruse and spent two and a half years in an Argentinian prison for trafficking what she thought were legal documents needed by her internet lover, but that turned out to be 5kg of cocaine. She is now speaking about her own experience and is determined to expose the scams and scammers.
Mr Tuck said these were just some of many cases showing similar hallmarks and which all pointed to a sophisticated network of drug trafficking aimed at vulnerable travellers who were able to be exploited.
“Across the planet we are seeing patterns of drug cartel behaviour resulting in ‘mules’, who are essentially the bottom of the cartel food chain, being shot, hung and beheaded – then replaced by new recruits.
We have found many of these drug cartels originate in Africa and are functioning largely out of Guangzhou, China, where drug precursor chemicals are readily obtainable and where international transport links make trade in drugs easier,” he said.
“The most efficient way for these cartels to move drugs around is with unsuspecting human ‘mules’, who are often distracted, or blinded, by a range of needs that are identified and exploited by the cartels – including the need for love and companionship. These people are generally groomed over a long period of time, online, where access to information is readily obtainable through social media sites such as Facebook.
Many say these drug mules should have known better, but few realise how easy it is to fall prey to these criminal gangs and the deft touch with which the drugs are planted – it is almost an art form when you hear how the drugs get secreted in a person’s luggage,” Mr Tuck said.
“The casualties don’t end with the lives of those carrying the drugs; families are being served life sentences. They have little access to information on arrest, minimal legal or diplomatic assistance from governments; and a lifetime of pain following loss after death penalties, or harsh prison terms, are imposed,” he said.
“We have formed the international organisation MULE to assist by increasing access to support and information, evidence gathering and communication, and most importantly, experienced and competent lawyers familiar with working across jurisdictions and in highly sensitive political and cultural environments,” Mr Tuck said.
For more on Sharon Armstrong’s personal story, see: https://www.tvnz.co.nz/ondemand/marae/05-07- 2015/series-2015-episode-19
To learn more about Lindsay Sandiford’s case and how you can help her, see: http://tinyurl.com/pxstemo
Those with information about similar scams, such as those described above or those requiring more information about the work of MULE, contact: Asia Pacific Lawyers Network public affairs manager, Mandy Wyer, +61 418 270 656.