PERTH, Australia - A Canadian has been arrested in Australia after a local couple who "won" a free vacation package to Canada as well as new luggage were allegedly used as drug mules, the Australian Federal Police said Friday.
The investigation began Oct. 13 at Perth International Airport when two local residents returning from Canada alerted customs officers about concerns they had with their luggage.
Police said the couple — a 64-year-old woman and a man aged 72 — had recently won a competition with a prize of two tickets to Canada, seven nights accommodation and new luggage.
An x-ray examination of their luggage revealed approximately 3.5 kilograms of methamphetamine hidden in each suitcase.
Police allege the couple were victims of an elaborate scam in which older Australians appear to be targeted by a bogus Canadian-based tour company identifying itself as AUSCAN Tours.
The woman, who was only identified as Sue, told local media that she was looking online for a holiday package, and after entering an online competition someone contacted her.
"Be very careful if you win anything,'' Sue told The Australian. "I could have ended up in jail for 25 years, and they could have ruined my life."
A 38-year-old Canadian man was arrested at Perth airport on Sunday, Oct. 13 and charged with importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment.
Police said search warrants conducted at a nearby hotel led to the seizure of documents associated with the alleged scam, electronic equipment, two suitcases similar to the ones seized at Perth airport and approximately $15,000 in cash.
Perth airport police Commander David Bachi said this investigation demonstrates that criminals will try anything to get drugs into Australia.
"The organizers of this scam went to great lengths to provide a facade of legitimacy. Thankfully the travellers contacted Customs and didn't dismiss their concerns, allowing us to make the arrest," Bachi said in a release Friday.
"We will continue working with local and international law enforcement partners, targeting all elements of this drug syndicate."
Last week, Australian police said they had arrested eight Canadians who were allegedly involved in smuggling of nearly two tonnes of drug-making materials worth almost $300 million.
Three of the Canadians — Catherine McNaughton, 30, Edmond Proko, 46, and James Kelsey, 27 — appeared in a Melbourne court Monday. They were charged with drug trafficking and are due back in court in January.
The 18-month investigation — known as Operation Diamondback — involved Australian federal and state law enforcement agencies. The Ontario Provincial Police said it also co-operated with the Austalian probe.
"It is believed that these three people were members of a drug syndicate that was responsible for distributing the pseudoephedrine and vanilla powder mixture to criminal organizations in Australia, who would then use it to make methamphetamine in clandestine laboratories," the OPP said in a release earlier this week.