Cassandra Sainsbury. Picture: Instagram
Cassandra Sainsbury. Picture: Instagram

How Cassandra Sainsbury was caught in Colombia

UPDATE: An Adelaide woman accused of drug smuggling in Colombia could have her case ruled on in 90 days and complete her punishment in Australia if she admits to a level of complicity, the ABC has reported her lawyer as saying.

Cassandra Sainsbury, 22, is being held at El Buen Pastor Women's prison in Bogota after her arrest on April 12 at the city's international airport when she was allegedly found carrying 5.8kg of cocaine in her luggage.

Ms Sainsbury faces between eight and 20 years in prison if found guilty of drug trafficking.

However, the ABC reported her newly appointed, Colombia-based lawyer Orlando Herran said: "But if we can get a deal with prosecutors, we could avoid drug trafficking charges and instead get complicity or something where she had a guilty act of not reviewing her luggage, and we could get a deal of a minimum of four years."  

Mr Herran said that could mean the case would be ruled on in 90 days and could result in "conditional liberty", such as parole, which would possibly be completed in Australia.

EARLIER: Accused Aussie drug smuggler Cassandra Sainsbury was caught because the US Drug Enforcement Agency alerted Colombian authorities to their suspicions about her plane ticket, reports suggest.

Sainsbury, 22, was arrested at El Dorado International Airport in Bogota on April 12 after a tip-off about the 5.8kg of cocaine allegedly hidden inside 18 headphone boxes in her suitcase.

"We found her because of an alert from the DEA," Bogota airport's narcotics chief, Commander Rodrigo Soler, told News Corp Australia Network.

He said she had cleared security, checked her bag and was minutes away from boarding her flight when the alert came up.

"The alert said check this person so we pulled her aside and we searched her luggage and we arrested her. We asked 'is this your bag, did you pack this?'. She said 'yes'."

Soler told The Australian Sainsbury's ticket, which was bought at the last minute by an unknown party in Hong Kong for a trip from Australia to Bogota via London, was one of several red flags that caused North American agencies to alert Colombian police.

The Adelaide woman's family insists she is innocent and was set up by a Colombian man she met after arriving in the South American country on April 3 during a working holiday.

They say she bought the headphones from him to give as gifts to family and friends at her upcoming wedding.

Cassandra Sainsbury during her detention with 5.8 kilos of cocaine at the International Airport the Dorado, in Bogota, Colombia.
Cassandra Sainsbury during her detention with 5.8 kilos of cocaine at the International Airport the Dorado, in Bogota, Colombia. EPA - Col Anti-narcotics Police

However, an expert on the South American drug trade says there was no way the former firness trainer would have the connections to sell almost $2 million worth of cocaine, and someone must have been waiting to receive it in Australia.

Rusty Young, who lived in Colombia for eight years and is about to release a book Colombiano about the country's child soldiers, said the South Australian woman's story didn't add up.

"Her version of events is not consistent with the way drug rings operate," Mr Young told news.com.au yesterday.

"If you were planting $1 million worth of drugs in someone's baggage, how were you intending to recover the drugs back in Australia?"

Ms Sainsbury was caught on April 12 with 5.8kg of cocaine in her luggage, which she thought were boxes of headphones she bought from a local man, her family has said.

Her sister Khala posted on a fundraising page that the 22-year-old was detained for drug trafficking at the airport in Bogota "waiting to depart back to Australia". But it's since been reported that Cassie may have intended to continue on her working holiday to make presentations in London, France and Hong Kong.

She was not due back in Australia until Easter Saturday, April 15.

It's unclear where the drugs were ultimately headed but Mr Young believes if they were being shipped to Australia, someone would have been waiting for them to come in.

"There's no way a 22-year-old could have the connections to distribute and sell almost 6kg of cocaine," he said.

"There must have been someone in Australia to receive those drugs."

Mr Young also dismissed fears that Ms Sainsbury could be targeted by cartels while imprisoned in Colombia.

"That's absolute nonsense," he said. "Cartels don't run drug mules through airports, they run tonnes of cocaine. There's no professional Colombian organisation behind this."

Despite concerns about Ms Sainsbury's safety, Mr Young said he thought she would be physically safe in the overcrowded El Buen Pastor women's jail.

"They would have put her in the foreign section with foreign inmates," he said.

Australian diplomatic staff have also reportedly delivered her a mattress and blanket to use in her cell.

Mr Young said he also thought Ms Sainsbury would get a fair trial in Colombia, although justice would be slow.

News Corp Australia

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