Cassie Sainsbury’s $100K legal bill to be shouldered by Australian taxpayers

By @chelean on
Cassandra Sainsbury
Cassandra Sainsbury, an Australian, is seen in handcuffs after she was arrested at the international airport in Bogota, Colombia, April 12, 2017. Picture Taken April 12, 2017. Colombian Police/Handout via Reuters

Cassandra Sainsbury, dubbed “Cocaine Cassie” by the media, has cost Australian taxpayers over $100,000 for her legal defence in Colombia. The former personal trainer has received six years in jail in a plea deal after admitting to trying to smuggle 5.8 kg of cocaine in April.

Sainsbury’s plea deal was previously rejected by a judge in August after claiming that she had been threatened into carrying the drugs. She was facing up to 30 years in jail.

On Thursday, a Bogota judge has accepted the 22-year-old Adelaide native’s plea deal with prosecutors. She will spend six years in jail and pay a fine of $130,000. She could also serve just two and a half years if she displayed good behaviour and worked behind bars. Sainsbury is teaching English inside the prison.

With Sainsbury already sentenced, it has emerged Australia will be paying for her legal defence in the South American country. The Australian government will not pay for her fine, but taxpayers will shoulder her legal bill, which has racked up over $100,000.

Her legal team said the first round of taxpayer dollars was sent to her Colombian lawyer in the past couple of weeks. The money, they said, was well deserved.

“These people (like Sainsbury) are just victim of bigger criminals,” the legal defence was quoted by the West Australian as saying. “This plea bargain was given to her as a result that she was under threat to proceed with what she did.”

Orlando Herran, her Bogota lawyer, told reporters outside the court that Sainsbury could have received an even shorter sentence if only she had gone to the police to report the threats she got. Nevertheless, her case gave way to an investigation that uncovered a larger operation. He said investigators suspected she was used as bait to distract the authorities while other people smuggled drugs unnoticed. Herran said he would still appeal the $130,000 fine.

In September, Sainsbury reiterated her innocence to “60 Minutes,” claiming that the unknown perpetrators had threatened to kill her family and boyfriend unless she smuggled drugs. She said she was sent surveillance photos of her family on the WhatsApp phone app. However, she could not remember the pattern code of the app so she could not show it to the court as evidence.