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Australian woman sentenced to six years prison for drug smuggling in Colombia

An Australian woman has been jailed for six years after pleading guilty to drug trafficking in a high-profile case that has shed light on the plight of foreign drug mules.

Cassandra Sainsbury was accompanied by her family as the judge accepted the plea deal - a huge reduction from the 30 years in jail she faced had the case gone to trial.

Her lawyer Orlando Herran said that, with good conduct, his client could be released from prison in as little as two years and placed under house arrest even before then.

She must also pay a fine of nearly 100,000 US dollars (£75,000).

Sainsbury was arrested in April at Bogota's international airport in Colombia boarding a flight to London after an X-ray machine detected about 6 kilograms (13 pounds) of cocaine stashed in packages of headphones within her luggage.

The 22-year-old said she had purchased the headphones to bring back to Australia for her wedding, but later changed her story several times, claiming she had been set up and threatened by people back in Sydney where she said she worked as a receptionist at a brothel.

Prosecutors, in seeking leniency, were persuaded that her crimes were not so black and white, said Mr Herran.

"She's lucky because the amount of the drugs was very big," he told journalists who travelled to Colombia after the closed-door hearing.

Sainsbury's arrest garnered attention in Australia, where tabloids alternated between mocking the Adelaide native as "Cocaine Cassie" and expressing sympathy with the plight of Australia's highest-profile foreign prisoner.

But the few Colombians who followed the case at all tended to be deeply offended by her family's early statement that she could not receive a fair trial in such a "corrupt country".

Colombia is the world's largest producer of cocaine and its police among the best trained to detect and stop drug smuggling thanks in part to billions of dollars in US anti-narcotics aid that has strengthened law enforcement.

Many families have sad tales of loved ones who have spent years behind bars in the US and elsewhere after being drawn by economic hardship into the lower rungs of the drug trade.

As tourism to Colombia has boomed over the past decade, the country's drug cartels are increasingly recruiting foreigners to smuggle cocaine out of the country, with 67 suspected foreign drug mules arrested this year.

AP

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