News National More young travellers hitting South America’s cocaine trail

More young travellers hitting South America’s cocaine trail

Colombia cocain
An increasing number of young Western travellers are heading to South America to take advantage of easy and cheap access to cocaine. Photo: Getty
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An increasing number of young Western travellers are heading to South America to take advantage of easy and cheap access to cocaine, according to a criminal justice expert.

Flinders University criminal justice strategic professor Andrew Goldsmith said there was “no doubt” Western backpackers travelling to places like Colombia, young travellers in particular, were increasing in numbers.

“Some of them are drawn to the easy availability of cocaine,” he said.

Professor Goldsmith worked as a police reform adviser in Colombia and said drug cartels were attracted to the travellers because they had passports that enabled them to travel readily to large cocaine markets in Western countries.

He said drug mules often had “a motive of their own” for cooperating with traffickers, adding it was “difficult to imagine how one could be completely unknowing”.

Adelaide woman Cassandra Sainsbury, 22, is being held in Colombia’s El Buen Pastor women’s prison after she was caught with 18 packages in her luggage containing 5.8 kilograms of cocaine.

The former personal trainer was arrested at El Dorado International Airport following a police tip-off.

Her Colombian-based lawyer, Orlando Herran, said she received the pre-wrapped packages from a man who claimed they were headphones and they were packed in her luggage at the last minute.

Colombian jails ‘full of travellers like Sainsbury’

Professor Goldsmith said Ms Sainsbury’s account of what happened was unlikely to be believed in the Colombian court system.

“The jails of South America are full of people who claim that they have been unknowingly led into this pattern of behaviour,” he said.

He said Colombian police were “well oiled” and a plane ticket bought by a third party was exactly the sort of thing that would raise the alarm.

“A ticket bought by an unknown person at short notice, for a young person who is travelling to a country never previously visited by that person, those sort of indicators would be triggering off alarms at multiple points I suspect,” Professor Goldsmith said.

He said Colombian police were sophisticated and regularly cooperated with authorities around the world to try to stem the flow of cocaine from their borders.

“How one would explain such a large number of parcels credibly is a challenge they [the family and lawyers] face,” Professor Goldsmith said.

Colombian drug authorities earlier this week dismissed claims Ms Sainsbury was innocent.

Colonel Jorge Mendoza from the Colombian drug enforcement police department said it was an unsophisticated method of concealment and Ms Sainsbury would have known the narcotics were in her bags.

He was confident the seizure would lead to jail time and, depending on the quality of the drugs, she could face up to 20 years’ imprisonment.

Colonel Mendoza added Ms Sainsbury’s case was indistinguishable from a growing number of drug cases involving foreigners.