A Malaysian flight attendant struggling to afford her daughter’s medical treatments has been sentenced to nearly a decade behind bars for smuggling heroin in her bra and underwear in a bid to make some extra cash.
Zailee Hana Binti Zainal was sentenced on Thursday to 9 years in jail for her role in a drug syndicate responsible for importing millions of dollars worth of the heroin into Melbourne, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. The 40-year-old mother was among a group of Malaysia Airlines and Malindo Air flight attendants tasked with sneaking heroin aboard flights into Australia.
Victoria County Court Judge Michael Cahill said Zainal spent months practicing how to walk confidently while the drugs were tucked beneath her tights and between her legs to ensure she would not get caught. Once on board the aircraft, the drugs would be stored in the lavatory for the remainder of the flight.
She was caught on Jan. 6, 2019 by border patrol agents, who selected her for a random search once her flight touched down at Melbourne Airport. She told them she suspected she’d been carrying some type of narcotic but did not know it was heroin, according to the Herald.
Between October 2018 and January 2019, Zainal smuggled eight packages of heroin — weighing just more than 2 lbs. — into Australia, Cahill said. She was paid about $1,700 per package by workers for Michelle Ngoc Tran, a nail technician called “Queen of Richmond” and head of the Melbourne drug ring.
Ngoc has pleaded guilty to importing a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug and trafficking a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug. She is facing life behind bars.
Cahill on Thursday also acknowledged that Zainal’s daughter, Mia, was born with a serious medical condition and lives with “chronic pain and discomfort.” The 9-year-old has required operations and medical care over the last several years, costing her family a hefty amount in medical expenses.
While she was still employed at Malindo Air, the human resources department emailed staff in 2018 requesting donations to help foot the hospital bills. A short time later, Zainal said she was approached by someone she “thought was a friend,” who offered her the drug smuggling position.
In a statement read in court, Zainal said she was “vulnerable at the time and willing to do anything to pay for Mia’s operations and medical expenses.”
“I did not think about what these drugs could do. Since being in prison I have seen the terrible effect drugs have on people,” she said.
“I’m deeply ashamed and so sorry I became involved. I take full responsibility for my actions.”
Zainal previously pleaded guilty to one charge of importing a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug, which comes with a maximum life sentence. Cahill, in handing out the punishment, acknowledged Zainal’s remorse, but called her role in the drug ring “substantial.”
“You were carefully trained to execute your role, using codes and changing flights to perform it eight times during the charge period,” Cahill said.
“You were desperate to raise money for your daughter’s medical treatment. A drug syndicate recruiter took advantage of your vulnerability,” he added. “I am satisfied those extenuating circumstances explain your offending and in those exceptional circumstances I am of the view you are deserving of some leniency.”
While Zainal was sentenced to nearly 10 years in jail, the judge said she would be eligible for parole after four years behind bars. With 640 days already served, she could be out in less than three years.
Between October 2018 and early January last year, authorities intercepted about 14 pounds of heroin smuggled by the syndicate. The street value is estimated to be around $8 million.
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