CCTV: innocent drug mule walks through Melbourne Airport
CCTV recording shows a woman carrying 1.5kgs of cocaine through Melbourne AIrport, the drugs having been planted by her son-in-law who trails behind her.PT0M45S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2ys9y 620 349 December 5, 2013
A man who packed 1.5 kilograms of cocaine into his unsuspecting mother-in-law's luggage and then blamed her for importing it through Melbourne Airport has been jailed for a maximum of 10 years.
Hamado Nabole's mother-in-law said he had returned from work in May last year and told her: "Renate, you need a holiday, you deserve a holiday, and I'm planning to go to South Africa."
This was a calculated decision taken by you which was extremely callous.
Renate Neugebauer told a County Court jury she could not afford it but Nabole had replied, "You don't have to worry about this because it will be paid", as would her mortgage for two weeks.
Hamado Nabole's mother-in-law was unknowingly carrying 1.5 kilograms of cocaine.
When an Australian customs officer on June 27 last year found the drug – with a potential street value of about $724,000 – a shocked Ms Neugebauer said she had felt as if in a "bad dream".
A judge has now castigated Nabole for his conduct, saying an important part of his plan was to have Ms Neugebauer accompany him as a means of importing the cocaine as an "innocent agent".
In her sentencing remarks on Thursday, Judge Carolyn Douglas presumed that Nabole decided to use her to "divert suspicion from you as she is a middle-aged woman who was less likely to be suspected of carrying drugs".
Judge Douglas told Nabole that "this was a calculated decision taken by you which was extremely callous" and what he had put her through was a "frightening ordeal".
Nabole, 37, who had pleaded not guilty to importing a marketable quantity of cocaine, was convicted by a jury in October.
Judge Douglas ordered him to serve a minimum of seven years, less 526 days pre-sentence detention.
Prosecutor Yildana Hardjadibrata earlier described Nabole as a courier who had "used an innocent agent to bring the drugs into Australia", a feature that made his conduct "more culpable".
Throughout the trial, Mr Hardjadibrata told Judge Carolyn Douglas that Nabole had "attributed blame to that innocent agent".
Ms Neugebauer said that before the "holiday" destination was changed to Sao Paulo, Brazil, Nabole had arranged all details of the trip – flights, accommodation and visas – and that the purpose of the journey had been for him to collect tile samples for possible importation for restoration work at a Crown casino restaurant.
She had carried samples of tiles in her backpack from Melbourne because Nabole said he already had enough to carry in his.
They flew from Melbourne on June 11, 2012, and in Sao Paulo she had been surprised and felt uncomfortable to learn they were sharing one room at a hotel.
Ms Neugebauer said in evidence that they had followed the same routine each morning – walks, some shopping, a movie once and a bus tour – but they then returned to the room where she remained until the next morning.
Nabole, she said, had told her it was unsafe to the leave the hotel, while he went out to a bank and to make phone calls and "do some business for the tiles".
Ms Neugebauer testified they had stayed two extra days because Nabole claimed there had been a "serious accident" and he could not get the tiles.
Their routine did not change, she said – breakfast at the hotel, looking at shops, going to the park and "make some photos with statues, that's it".
Before flying to Dubai, Ms Neugebauer said Nabole had returned to the hotel room with a grey-and-black backpack which he said contained "samples" that she assumed were tiles.
Asked by Mr Hardjadibrata if she had looked to see what was in it, she replied: "I'm not a curious person. I believed him. As I took the tiles from Melbourne to Sao Paulo I believed these were the samples to return back."
She passed alone through customs because Nabole said he had to make some phone calls, but they had sat together on the flight to Dubai where they stayed with his wife, Ms Neugebauer's daughter Lavinia.
She told the jury that for the flight to Melbourne her original backpack had been placed empty in Nabole's suitcase and he told her to take the grey-and-black one because "it's easier to carry for you".
On landing, Ms Neugebauer left the plane alone as Nabole told her he still needed to complete his customs card.
Approached by a customs officer who asked where she had been on holiday and how she had liked it, Ms Neugebauer replied she "didn't like Brazil" before being questioned by another officer about her backpack.
She said she had packed it with "personal belongings" and that it was not hers before it was put through a scanner and the officer said: "There's something in there."
After the officer made an opening in the backpack, Ms Neugebauer said, "I've seen ... the little bit of powder and I just froze ... I was shocked.
"I didn't know what to do and I turned around and asked for my son-in-law and I've made a half-turn around and I said, 'This belongs to him because this is not my backpack.' "
Nabole, she said, "just looked at and went that's it" and "I thought I was in a bad dream".
"I had no knowledge. I didn't even notice there was a divider [in the backpack]," she told the jury. "I don't like drugs. I don't deal with drugs. That's why I was so shocked."
Cross-examined by defence barrister Danny Holding, Ms Neugebauer, when told that an officer who was opposite Nabole had noted that he did not react when she had turned to him, maintained that he did.
"He looked at me and went very slightly ('no') with his head," she claimed.
She agreed she had previously vouched for Nabole in his plan to return to Australia and that later Lavinia and their children would join him.
Ms Neugebauer also agreed that he would live with her and that she would "adopt the grandmotherly role" with the couple's eldest child and care for her, but she denied she had suggested to Nabole she needed a holiday before looking after the child.
She also denied that it had been her idea to go to Brazil, that her son had friends in Sao Paulo who could provide cheap accommodation and that she had asked Nabole to organise the trip.
Ms Neugebauer rejected suggestions by Mr Holding that she had known there was cocaine in the bag and that at customs in Melbourne she "nominated Hamado as having given you this bag and that was so you [would] get out of being caught red-handed".
Giving sworn evidence, Nabole said he had stayed rent free at Ms Neugebauer's Melbourne home for several months until February 2012, and then she had told him in April she "needed a break" before his eldest child came to stay.
He claimed the tiles were for a friend in Dubai who was building a house and that he had hoped to make a small profit from it.
In Sao Paulo, he told the jury, he had been unhappy when Ms Neugebauer announced they had to stay an extra few days because of "some issue that is happening", but he "just had to stay there and support her".
He claimed she had brought the grey-and-black backpack and he had nothing to do with it and had not been aware it held cocaine.
Cross-examined by Mr Hardjadibrata, Nabole admitted that in May 2012 he had deposited $10,000 into a bank, of which he claimed $4000 was Ms Neugebauer's, but denied it was money from people "sponsoring" his trip to Brazil.
Nabole said in Sao Paulo they "just mucked all around" and that sometimes they were together and sometimes they went out alone.
When Mr Hardjadibrata suggested it was not "much of a holiday if you spend it with your mother-in-law for the whole time", Nabole replied: "It is a holiday for me, yeah."
He agreed he had had three mobile phones at the time, but denied he had changed their SIM cards to avoid police monitoring.
"Sir, I don't know anything about drugs or backpack," he told Mr Hardjadibrata. "All I know I was just there [to] just accompany her and she needs a vacation."
He denied keeping his distance from her when she was carrying the backpack at Sao Paulo Airport – "No, why should I keep distance from my mother-in-law?" – and said he was "just taking my time" when it was suggested he had been walking "very, very slowly" at Melbourne Airport.
In sentencing, Judge Douglas said while Nabole was a courier rather than a "King pin" or "Mr Big", he was an indispensable link and his involvement "absolutely fundamental to the importation".
"I sentence you as a courier, but your culpability is not low, your responsibility is absolute," she told him.
Nabole was capable of leading a normal, law abiding life, given his lack of previous convictions and the absence of drug or alcohol problems, she said, and while it was unclear whether his marriage was over, it was not surprising Ms Neugebauer's view was that it was.
After being found guilty, Mr Holding told Judge Douglas that Nabole, born in the West African country of Burkina Faso, had made "considerable efforts" to educate himself and his family.
Mr Holding said Nabole's wife, who was a teacher in Dubai, felt "divided" between her husband and mother but that they were still together.
He had told Mr Holding that it "seems like my life is over" and that he was isolated on remand without visitors or contact with family.
> "You would not expect his mother-in-law to visit," Judge Douglas remarked.