A Colombian drug mule who admitted trafficking more than HK$2.7 million worth of cocaine into Hong Kong to repay debts for his sister’s medicine was jailed for 16 years and eight months by a High Court judge on Friday.
Cesar Sanchez, 21, did not initially react to the sentence on one count of trafficking a dangerous drug. But he broke down in tears as his lawyers gathered around the dock to explain the sentence after the hearing.
The former butcher was convicted after stating through an interpreter: “I declare myself guilty.”
Sanchez was arrested at Hong Kong International Airport on October 26 last year after officers found five packets of paste, which contained 1,719 grams of cocaine, inside a rucksack.
According to prosecutors, he was offered up to US$35,000 to take the rucksack from Sao Paulo in Brazil. They said a man called Marcos came to his home and threatened to kill him or hurt his younger sister if he changed his mind about the trip.
Defense counsel Michael Arthur explained that his client had borrowed 5 million Colombian pesos (HK$13,127) from a loan shark to cover living expenses and medicine for his sister, 17.
Sanchez, as her primary caregiver, was earning a monthly wage of 900,000 pesos while she needed a million pesos a month to treat the lupus she was suffering.
When he could not meet repayment deadlines and the 20 percent daily interest, Sanchez reluctantly agreed to work for the loan shark, Arthur said.
“He regrets getting involved in drug trafficking,” Arthur continued. “This is an offense that is borne out of desperation.”
The court heard that Sanchez joined a campaign to write blogs and send letters back home to discourage fellow Colombians from taking drugs to Hong Kong.
But deputy High Court judge Madam Justice Susana D’Almada Remedios did not accept that as a mitigating factor. However, she reduced the initial 25-year sentence by a third because of his guilty plea.<
“Dangerous drug trafficking is a very, very serious offense,” she said. “It is unfortunate that people like yourself are targeted … I have every sympathy for persons like you.”
There were clear and binding sentencing guidelines laid down by the Court of Appeal, the judge said.
Under Hong Kong law, those convicted of trafficking dangerous drugs can be jailed for life and fined HK$5 million.