New tactics see Western drug mules behind bars in Bali

Drug syndicates are using Westerners to smuggle drugs into Bali in new tactics, Indonesian authorities said Wednesday as a British grandmother became the latest to face the firing squad for trafficking.

Foreign tourists relax on Kuta beach in Denpasar, Bali on January 23, 2013. Drug syndicates are using Westerners to smuggle drugs into Bali, Indonesian authorities said as a British grandmother became the latest to face the firing squad for trafficking.

Lindsay Sandiford, 56, was sentenced to death Tuesday after being caught with 4.79 kilograms (10 pounds, nine ounces) of cocaine worth $2.4 million in her suitcase as she arrived on a flight from Bangkok last May.

The haul was destined for sale in the hard-partying resort island, which is enjoying a tourism boom and where drugs can be freely obtained despite harsh penalties and high-profile arrests.

"Drugs are absolutely easily available... from weed and 'shrooms to crystal meth and acid," said Australian Andrew Lee, 21, in Kuta, the island's entertainment strip, which is lined with bars.

"Hundreds of people sell epinephrine outside the clubs," he added.

Sandiford sobbed as the sentence was handed down in a court in Bali's capital Denpasar, with judges rejecting arguments she was coerced into transporting the drugs by a gang that had threatened her children.

"We hope the verdict sends a message to the world that Bali is not a drugs haven and that offenders will be given the fairest possible punishment," Justice Minister Amir Syamsuddin told AFP Wednesday.

Sandiford joins a line-up of foreigners on death row or serving heavy sentences in Bali's infamous Kerobokan jail, as drug syndicates turn their gaze on an island that draws nearly three million tourists each year.

According to police figures, 22 foreigners including four Britons, three Germans and two Russians were nabbed in 2012 in drugs-related cases on the island.

Narcotics officials say drug syndicates now prefer to use Western drug mules who can better blend in with the millions of arrivals at Bali's international airport and evade police detection.

"Using European couriers is a new trend in 2012. A year earlier, most of the couriers hailed from the Middle East and African countries," Bali narcotics police chief Mulyadi told AFP.

"Westerners are less suspicious because they look wealthy and appear less likely to break the laws," he said.

National narcotics agency spokesman Sumirat Dwiyanto said that international syndicates were also wary of hiring Indonesians for fear they could "spill on them and expose their network".

"This is a business of trust. They prefer to use their own people whom they can really trust," he said.

A prisons official said there were currently 35 foreigners and 56 Indonesians on death row in Indonesia, including Briton Gareth Cashmore, who was sentenced after being arrested on drugs charges in the capital Jakarta last October.

Among them are two members of the "Bali Nine" -- a group of Australians caught at the island's airport in 2005 with heroin strapped to their bodies. Seven others of that group are serving long jail terms.

Another high-profile inmate of Kerobokan is Australian Schapelle Corby, who was arrested with a haul of marijuana in 2004 and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in a blaze of media headlines.

After Sandiford's arrest, three other Britons and an Indian were detained in connection with the same drugs ring, but most were cleared of trafficking charges and received light sentences.

The last figure in the ring to face justice, Briton Julian Ponder, is due to be sentenced next week with at least seven years' imprisonment likely.

Sandiford was silent and withdrawn after the court's decision, which came as a shock after prosecutors had argued for a relatively lenient 15-year sentence, her lawyer Esra Karokaro said.

"Certainly she was devastated by the verdict. She's psychologically shaken," he told AFP. Death penalty sentences are commonly commuted to long jail terms in Indonesia, but the process can take years.

Sandiford's case has rekindled the debate over whether capital punishment meted out to terrorists, murderers and drug traffickers in Indonesia is effective at reducing crime.

"Many of these couriers have also been exploited, and can be considered victims besides the drug users. It's more important to go after the syndicates," said Rafendi Djamin, who heads the Human Rights Working Group.

About the author

Writer: AFP
Position: News agency