EPA - Col Anti-narcotics Police

Photo of Cassandra Sainsbury's alleged drug haul emerges

A PHOTO has emerged of Cassandra Sainsbury with the alleged drug haul that got her arrested in Colombia as police raise doubts about her story.

The South Australian woman faces up to 25 years in jail for allegedly carrying 5.8kg of cocaine concealed in boxes of headphones inside her suitcase. She was arrested minutes before she was due to fly back to Australia from El Dorado International Airport in Bogota on April 12.

Colombian police have released a photo of the young Aussie in handcuffs standing in front of a table lined with 18 packages Ms Sainsbury says she believed to be headphones.

Jorge Mendoza, the ports and airports director for Colombia's anti-narcotic police, says he doubted the 22-year-old's story that she didn't know the drugs were hidden inside the packages.

Sainsbury was arrested at El Dorado International Airport in Bogota on April 12 after a tip-off she was smuggling 5.8kg of cocaine.

"She could possibly be a drug mule," Mendoza told ABC radio through an interpreter on Tuesday.

"In going through security we found she had 18 packets inside her luggage, which even before opening it we found covered in plastic.

"Her explanation is not credible. Everyone we catch says they didn't know it was in their luggage, but they know what they were doing."

The Adelaide woman's family insists she is innocent and was set up by a Colombian man she met after arriving in the South American country on April 3 during a working holiday.

Public comments made about her case may have unwittingly put the 22-year-old in danger, The Australian has reported.

Senior Australian lawyers familiar with the case told the paper that if the cartels found out what Ms Sainsbury's mother had been saying, she could be in danger inside the notorious El Buen Pastor jail where she is being held.

Cassandra Sainsbury during her detention with 5.8 kilos of cocaine at the International Airport the Dorado, in Bogota, Colombia.
Cassandra Sainsbury during her detention with 5.8 kilos of cocaine at the International Airport the Dorado, in Bogota, Colombia. EPA - Col Anti-narcotics Police

Yesterday, her mother Lisa Evans told KIIS that her daughter was facing a potential jail sentence of between 18 to 25 years, but if she pleaded guilty this would be reduced.

She said the minimum sentence was six years but this could be reduced to four if Ms Sainsbury provided information about the man who gave her the drugs.

Ms Evans said Cassie had trusted the man who gave her the drugs, and he had been acting as her translator in Colombia.

"He had been helping her all week, taking her around and showing her places, and just being a nice guy," Ms Evans said.

It is understood lawyers in Australia have now advised the family not to make any further public comments and to take down an online fundraising campaign on FundRazr.

The campaign has raised more than $4000 for Ms Sainsbury and remains active, although many of the posts express scepticism about Cassie's story and point out inconsistencies in what the family has said.

Lieutenant Colonel Jorge Triana, head of the anti-narcotics police at Bogota's international airport, said Ms Sainsbury's claims that she was deceived are probably untrue and in any case don't excuse her actions.

"Everyone who is caught says exactly the same thing," said Lt Colonel Triana, who added that many foreigners are lured by false promises of fast fortunes.

"But they know what they're doing."

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.

Fears are held for the safety of Cassandra Sainsbury.
Fears are held for the safety of Cassandra Sainsbury. Instagram - cassieleigh_p_t

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. Police have arrested 19 foreign drug mules this year alone, Lt Colonel Triana said.

An expert on the South American drug trade believes it's possible Ms Sainsbury may have been used as a decoy.

Rusty Young wrote the book Marching Powder about Bolivia's infamous prison system and told The Project that drug dealers said sometimes used tourists as decoys, so that others would be let through.

"The traffickers do use that when they have flights with a lot of different mules going on," he said.

"They are giving one over to the police to let 10 go past."

He said 6kg was a lot to give away, with one or two kilograms more common, but it was still a possibility that Cassie had been sacrificed to police.

Mr Young also said it was uncommon for people to slip drugs into other people's bags as there were plenty of drug mules willing to sign up for the task.

"It is a risk that they might go through them themselves and find it and throw it to the police and you have potentially millions of dollars worth of cocaine," he said.

"Why would you do that when you could have someone who could do it voluntarily?"

- With AP