Canadian involved in drug smuggling plot says she made cocaine cruise a vacation
Mélina Roberge, 24, appeared in Australian court for sentencing hearing
A Canadian woman told an Australian court on Wednesday that her only role in a plot to smuggle cocaine worth $16 million US into Sydney was to make the luxury cruise ship operation look like a vacation.
Three Quebecers have pleaded guilty in the New South Wales state District Court to smuggling 95 kilograms of the drug in their luggage in a seven-week cruise in 2016 from Britain to Ireland, the United States, Bermuda, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Chile then Australia.
Mélina Roberge, 24, appeared in the court for a sentencing hearing on Wednesday.
A date for her to be sentenced will be set next week. She was to stand trial last month, before she changed her plea to guilty.
"I was meant to just be there and look like I was on holiday and look like a cover for everyone else," Roberge told the court.
'I do not want to be part of that'
Roberge told the court she initially refused to take part when her unnamed "sugar daddy" asked her to carry drugs on the cruise. But she later agreed when told she could enjoy a free vacation while helping the group.
"Other people would be there to look after the drugs," she said.
She began to cry while telling the court she made the decision without thinking about the consequences. As a remand prisoner in a Sydney jail, she had met women who struggle with drug addictions.
"I do not want to be part of that. I want to be able to help them," Roberge said.
"I am really sorry. I should have thought about the consequences and not what I would have gotten for it," she added.
Motivated by the attention
Prosecutor Tom Muir told her she had been aware of what she was doing.
"She was not doing it for debt," Muir told the court. "It's for the lifestyle she wants to enjoy."
In a letter to the court, Roberge wrote that she had been motivated by a desire to "take photos of myself in exotic locations for 'likes' and attention, and hurt so many people in the process."
She posted photographs of herself in New York's Times Square and at other locations throughout the drug run.
Record for cocaine smuggled in luggage
Her lawyer Avni Djemal said Roberge played no part in dealing the drugs and had been young and naive.
Police with sniffer dogs found 35 kilograms of cocaine in the cabin she shared with Isabelle Lagacé on Aug. 28, 2016, when the MS Sea Princess, operated by California-based Princess Cruises, berthed in Sydney.
Another 60 kilograms of the drug were found in Andre Tamine's cabin. It is not clear from what port the drug was collected.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Canada Border Services Agency identified the three as high-risk passengers among the 1,800 on board. The haul was a record for cocaine smuggled in luggage through an Australian air or sea port.
Lagacé, 29, was sentenced in November to seven years and six months in prison backdated to her arrest. She will likely be deported after serving a non-parole period of four years and six months. She told the court she took part to settle a debt in Canada.
Tamine, 65, will be sentenced in October.