Drug mule jailed for more than 7 years

04:59, Aug 20 2014
Sydney Cilliers
ARRESTED: Sydney Cilliers faces drugs charges in South America.

A South African woman has been jailed for seven years and 10 months for her role as a drug mule smuggling $1 million of heroin into New Zealand.

Laura Elizabeth Cilliers, 32, had the class A drug hidden in her luggage and inside her body and needed an operation to get one pellet of it out. Her first court sitting after her arrest in late June was at her bedside in Christchurch Hospital.

Cilliers was found with 99 triple-wrapped heroin pellets, about 3cm long and weighing 10g each, after her arrival on a flight from Singapore. She had swallowed all of them in Cambodia, and then flown via Singapore to New Zealand.

Laura Cilliers
DRUG MULE: South African Laura Cilliers admitted importing heroin.

She was unable to keep down the pellets on the flight and stuffed five of them into her bra and 55 into her hand luggage.

Cilliers was stopped at the airport as she looked unwell and had a swollen stomach. One pellet had to be surgically removed.

She said at the time that she had acted under duress because her husband and daughter had been abducted, but this was untrue. She later claimed there had been threats to her daughter.


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

Christchurch District Court Judge Gary MacAskill said he could not accept this was any more reliable than the previous explanation.

Crown prosecutor Pip Currie said Cilliers had not been the mastermind of the offending, but there was a significant amount of premeditation given the internal concealment and the planning for travel. The Crown agreed on a reduction of the sentence for her early guilty pleas.

Defence counsel Craig Ruane urged that the reduction of the sentence be granted, and the judge accepted that.

The probation report referred to her as a poly-drug user but she did not see her drug use as problematic because she believed she could give up when she chose. She was diagnosed as having hepatitis C.

Heroin was seen as a dangerous and destructive drug for users and their families.

Judge MacAskill said Cilliers had not been the mastermind but had been a critical player in the distribution system, and had expected to receive a significant financial reward.

He imposed a jail term that he said took account of the harm to the community, but did not impose a minimum non-parole term.

A representative of the South African High Commission was present at court for the sentencing.

The Press