Canadian women in Aussie cruise ship drug bust
SEVEN members of a cocaine drug cartel were aboard luxury liner the MS Sea Princess as it cruised from New York via Tahiti to Sydney carrying 95kg of cocaine, a court heard on Friday.
And two young Canadian women in their twenties were an integral part of this "floating warehouse" of drugs, having secreted 29kg of it in a suitcase in their tiny shared cabin, it was alleged.
Fascinating details of a complex drug operation allegedly involving the two glamorous young Canadian women emerged in Sydney's Central Local Court on Friday.
Isabelle Lagace, 28, and 23-year-old Melina Roberge were in Cabin 312 along with a suitcase holding 29kg of a total $31m haul, it was alleged.
In another cabin, the third co-accused in Australia's biggest drug importation by passenger vessel Andre Tamine allegedly had up to 70kg in three suitcases.
Four men who were part of the alleged drug operation were also on board the cruise ship in cabins 706 and 715 as the ship sailed towards Australia, the court heard.
Evidence given during a committal hearing for Ms Roberge alleged that she was a knowing participant in the attempt to import the cocaine into Australia in August this year.
Earlier on Friday, Magistrate Robert Williams committed Mr Tamine to stand trial on February 3, after the 63-year-old waived his right to have a committal hearing.
Ms Lagace, reportedly a former porn star and model, entered a plea of guilty to the charge of attempting to import a commercial quantity of cocaine and will be sentenced on the same date.
Lawyer Ragni Mathur, who argued that Ms Roberge was unaware of the cocaine in her friend Ms Lagace's luggage in the cabin they shared, said four male passengers had travelled with the three accused on the cruise.
But she said Ms Roberge had booked her ticket for the trip with another man who was not associated with the criminal enterprise behind the drug deal.
However, Ms Lagace and Mr Tamine had booked their cruise together, Ms Mathur told the court.
Ms Mathur said that Ms Roberge should escape being committed for trial because she was only guilty by her association with Ms Lagace.
On CCTV footage of Ms Roberge embarking and disembarking the Sea Princess she had "nothing in her possession except a wallet or mobile phone".
Whereas Ms Lagace, who carried both an iPhone and BlackBerry - known as a device "that is impossible to decode" - had allegedly told investigators when they asked for it's password "you won't be getting that".
Ms Mathur said that Ms Lagace had admitted an one point that she owned the suitcase in which cocaine was later found.
Crown Prosecutor Lincoln Crowley told the court that although the Crown case against Ms Roberge was circumstantial, she and Ms Lagace had travelled for more than a month in a tiny ship's cabin in which there was a suitcase packed with almost 30kg of cocaine.
"The cocaine, 29kg of it, was found in a cabin occupied by Ms Roberge and Ms Lagace for the past 40 days, packed up, strapped up, taped up and sitting in a suitcase and would be worth a considerable amount of money," Mr Crowley told the court.
"Two women are minding the cocaine. Ms Lagace and Ms Roberge are warehousing a quantity of cocaine.
"It is in effect a floating warehouse. They are sitting ont his until they get to Australia."
Mr Crowley said the almost 30kg of cocaine allegedly found in a Swiss suitcase in the girls' cabin was in layers of Clipseal plastic bags tied up with masking tape.
He said the larger amount of cocaine allegedly found in Mr Tamine's cabin was similarly packaged inside three suitcases.
But Ms Mathur contested that despite the fact that Ms Roberge was a friend of her travelling mate Ms Lagace, that did not mean she knew about the cocaine enterprise.
"You don't need two chickens to keep warm a golden egg," she said.
Magistrate Williams will hand down his decision on whether or not to commit Ms Roberge to trial on December 21.