Uproar after Taiwan court clears Hong Kong woman caught with record cocaine haul

Defendant says she trusted her friend that the luggage she brought into the island for him from Brazil did not contain drugs

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 February, 2018, 7:27pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 February, 2018, 10:45pm

Prosecutors in Taiwan are weighing an appeal against a court’s controversial decision to acquit a Hong Kong woman of drug smuggling because she had trusted the friend who gave her the luggage with a record 8kg of cocaine hidden inside.

The 27-year-old defendant, only identified as Lee, faced the death sentence if convicted but walked free from Taoyuan District Court on Friday after it ruled that she was not aware that the suitcase she was carrying to the island from Brazil on behalf of the friend contained a Category 1 drug.

The Taoyuan District Prosecutors Office said it respected the court’s decision but would consider an appeal.

Lee was arrested at Taoyuan International Airport in June last year after customs officers, acting on a tip-off, found 8.05kg of cocaine valued at more than NT$100 million (US$3.42 million) in her suitcase, court officials said.

According to airport police, she said she had been unemployed for a long time and had agreed to take the suitcase to Taiwan for HK$20,000 (US$2,556) after being assured that it did not contain drugs.

A court official said Lee offered WhatsApp text messages she had with the man as evidence of the assurances.

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The court ruled that the woman was not aware that the luggage given to her by her friend contained drugs and declared her not guilty of smuggling the illicit substance into Taiwan.

“After a thorough investigation, we believed that the suspect trusted that her friend would not set her up and thus she agreed to carry the item,” the court official said.

But Taiwanese news outlets, including the United Daily News, the Liberty Times, TVBS and SET TV quoted unnamed prosecutors as saying that it was unimaginable that the woman would have been so naive as to believe her friend.

The reports said Lee met the friend “Chang” in a bar in Taipei and he paid for her to fly to Brazil and bring in the suitcase after learning of her financial troubles.

“If the woman was so foolish and naive, should we say our judges were the same?” the United Daily News quoted one of the prosecutors as saying.

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Readers responded to the reports by saying the court’s decision would only encourage more people to smuggle drugs into Taiwan.

“This serves only to entice others to do the same under the pretext that they have no idea or they have been duped into delivering drugs,” one commenter said on the Liberty Times website.

“These are so-called judges in Taiwan. Could they be more stupid and naive than that?” another said on an SET cable TV news network forum.