NZ-born pastor jailed for drug smuggling

Last updated 00:28 28/02/2014

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Evangelical Christian pastor Bernadine Prince must have been cursing her bad luck when her suitcases were delayed in Singapore on her way back to Australia.

She had spent several weeks travelling in Kenya, Nigeria and Cambodia, and was alarmed to find her bags had not followed her to Darwin.

Especially since they contained nine kilograms of methamphetamines and heroin, with a street value of $2 million.

Prince, 42, spent her birthday on trial last month for the importation of border-controlled substances, and on Thursday was sentenced in Darwin's Supreme Court to 12 years jail.

Smuggling the drugs was out of character, Justice Barr said, for a woman who had spent many years working in the church, ministering first to young people in New Zealand before migrating to Australia and organising food parcels for the needy in western Sydney.

The pastor who ordained her in NZ found that the youth she worked with "would likely have finished up as life dropouts. Instead, I saw many of these young people grow into stronger, hard-working, useful students and citizens with a deep faith in God which gave them the motivation to change their lives".

Prince's business cards identified her as the Australian CEO of the Oasis of Grace Foundation, with branches in Sydney, Cambodia, Nairobi, Fiji and Ghana.

In April last year she travelled overseas to speak at a Christian conference in Kenya, and spent time in Nigeria and Cambodia before returning to Darwin.

When her bags didn't turn up, Prince did everything she could to avoid going to the airport to collect them from customs officials, Justice Peter Barr said.

And once she was arrested, she told a series of lies to police.

A woman known only as "Mummy Rose" and her son had given Prince seven backpacks with African handicrafts from Nairobi, she said.

But Justice Barr found that explanation "unrealistic" as the drugs hidden inside them were packed in cardboard covered in Cambodian script and he said Prince was most likely a courier for a larger organisation.

Justice Barr found there were unexplained contradictions in Prince's character.

"You are a person capable of performing charitable works for the underprivileged in the community, with what would appear to be the best of intentions on your part," he said.

"Yet you are a person who is capable of telling intricate falsehoods and who, for reasons unexplained, imported a very significant quantity of border controlled drugs into Australia, drugs which when distributed and sold could end up causing considerable damage to the lives of young people in the Australian community."

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He sentenced her to 12 years' imprisonment, with a non-parole period of six years, backdated to May when she was arrested.

- AAP

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