Some of the children’s books in which packages of cocaine were hidden. (St. Maarten Customs file photo)
PHILIPSBURG–A woman from Brazil received a twenty-month prison sentence Wednesday, as the judge in the Court of First Instance found it proven that she had attempted to smuggle 9.5 kilogrammes of cocaine into St. Maarten.
Customs officials at Princess Juliana International Airport found Jessica Coelho Morales (27) in possession of almost 10 kilos of cocaine on December 18, 2019. The illicit drugs were found hidden within the covers of children’s books in the woman’s suitcase, which weighed in at 32 kilos.
Morales arrived in St. Maarten on a Copa Airlines flight. Customs officers searched her as part of a routine control and became suspicious when the woman appeared nervous while authorities were examining her luggage.
This resulted in a more thorough examination, during which officers found 50 packages hidden within the covers of 25 children’s books. The drugs were confiscated and the woman was detained for questioning.
The suspect claimed that she had no knowledge of drugs. She told the judge that she had not packed her own luggage, but that a man had given her the suitcase which she believed was full of clothing which she was supposed to sell in St. Maarten. She would receive approximately US $200 for her services.
However, the mother of three had previously told Customs and the investigating judge that she had purchased the drugs in Brazil and had wanted to sell these on “party island” St. Maarten.
She had devised the scheme to earn money and lessen her financial difficulties, the suspect had told the investigating judge on December 20, 2019.
The prosecutor did not buy the defendant’s story that she had had no knowledge of the drugs, which had a street value of almost $500,000.
“She was a drug trafficker who had the deliberate intention to smuggle illegal drugs into St. Maarten,” the prosecutor said in demanding a prison sentence of 24 months, with deduction of 56 days spent in pre-trial detention.
According to attorney-at-law Safira Ibrahim, her client had not intentionally imported drugs, as she had no knowledge of the cocaine found in her suitcase.
The judge said this was a “very sad case” of a young woman who fell victim to “bad people” who had sent her on a very risky trip to St. Maarten without being honest with her.
“They are safe in their homes and you are paying the price here in the Pointe Blanche prison,” he said.
The judge said that everybody knows that huge amounts of drugs are being smuggled from South America to Europe and that every traveller is responsible for his own luggage.
He said he believed the woman was not “the smartest person here on the island” and that it was her first trip as a drug smuggler, “but that does not absolve you of your responsibility to check such a heavy suitcase. …You deliberately closed your eyes to the risk you were taking,” the judge said.