Heroin drug mule a 'willing participant'

DRUG MULE: Laura Elizabeth Cilliers being sentenced in the Christchurch District Court on drug trafficking charges.
DRUG MULE: Laura Elizabeth Cilliers being sentenced in the Christchurch District Court on drug trafficking charges.

South African drug mule Laura Elizabeth Cilliers' life of hard drugs started after her partner died in a hit-and-run crash.

Left to raise a three-week-old baby alone, she started using cannabis, heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine.

According to court documents, she joined an international drug ring and carried out several international drug runs for financial gain.

On June 15, she got caught.

The 32-year-old was stopped at Christchurch Airport trying to import 99 pellets of heroin, worth $1 million, inside her body and luggage.

Cilliers had swallowed the pellets, which were triple-wrapped and weighed 10 grams each, in Cambodia the previous day and flown via Singapore.

She pleaded guilty to importing a class A drug and was yesterday jailed for seven years and 10 months. After her arrest, Cilliers claimed the drug run was her first.

She told a probation officer she did it under pressure from her drug-addict husband.

Sydney Harold Cilliers, 32, faces his own smuggling charges in South America. He was allegedly caught with cocaine in his luggage at an airport in Peru a month before his wife's arrest.

The Christchurch District Court sentencing heard Laura Cilliers was to receive a "substantial financial reward" for importing the drugs.

However, she was unable to keep the heroin pellets down.

By the time she landed in Christchurch, she was unwell.

Customs found five of the pellets stuffed in her bra. Another 55 were in her hand luggage.

She asked to use the toilet and expelled 22 more, the court summary said.

Cilliers had been instructed to contact her "handler" and pass the drugs on after arriving in Christchurch.

Photos of the heroin were found on her cellphone.

She spent the next 13 days in Christchurch Hospital while the pellets were expelled from her body.

One had to be surgically removed.

Cilliers initially claimed her husband and daughter had been abducted and would not be released until she did what her handlers required.

Inquiries revealed this was untrue, Judge Gary MacAskill told the court.

A letter from Cilliers' mother, Laura Vermaak, contained in the court file, said her daughter was "always my little rebel".

After her first marriage fell apart, Cilliers found happiness with a "wonderful man".

She fell pregnant but three weeks after the girl was born in 2007, he was killed in a hit and run, Vermaak said.

"This devastated Laura," she said.

A probation report said that after his death, Cilliers rebounded into a violent relationship and resorted to "heavy drug use".

Her child had been in care since.

She married Sydney Cilliers "rather impulsively" last December and he "turned out to be an addict".

The couple lived in a shelter in Middelburg, which is north of Port Elizabeth.

Her husband and his associates "pressured her to prepare for the drug trip by staying 'clean' for some months and putting on some weight".

The drug trafficking was part of a "large-scale, multi-country operation involving her husband", the probation report said.

Peru police said Sydney Cilliers was arrested in Lima when he was about to fly to Amsterdam.

His luggage was searched, and about 1.2 kilograms of cocaine was discovered in a suitcase.

A South African newspaper reported he was being held in harsh conditions in jail, and faced anywhere from six to 15 years in prison.

The court summary of facts said Laura Cilliers was "believed to be a willing participant in an international drug ring and had undertaken a number of drug runs in foreign countries for financial gain".

Judge MacAskill said her husband and his associates were the "primary offenders" but she held a "relatively high position in... the distribution tree".

She had no relatives or support in New Zealand and would be likely deported as soon as parole was granted.

Laura Cilliers was one of 15 people intercepted at New Zealand borders with drugs internally concealed since 2009.

Customs investigations manager Maurice O'Brien said they were unable to find her handler and did not know where the heroin was destined for.

The judge granted Customs permission to use the seized heroin for drug dog training.

The Press