Some of us may have heard of stories of people smuggling goods into someone’s bag, and being caught with drugs at the airport, but the amount of real cases with real people is just sobering.
Many of these cases came to light in The Star’s R.AGE documentary titled The Malaysian Drug Trade, which reveals that drug syndicates have been recruiting young Malaysians as inadvertent drug mules by luring them with paid holidays or high-paying courier jobs. One particularly bleak part of the documentary were letters written by the Malaysian drug mules jailed in Hong Kong
We read them all, and picked a few that sounded like they could be the person right next to us.
[Note: all their names have been changed to protect their identities.]
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1. Bala was just returning a loan and covering his school fees
Bala’s friend called him one day with a simple task – go to Hong Kong to help his friend take back RM5,000, and Bala would get RM1,000 from the deal. This money could be used to cover Bala’s 2nd semester college fees. Also, Bala had never flown before.
The following morning, Bala’s friend’s boss (the recruiter) fetched him from home and gave him a backpack. The recruiter probably knew how fishy this sounded, so he reassured him that there’s nothing suspicious inside while opening all the zips to prove it. Bala took the backpack and went on to enjoy his first flight.
At HK customs, he passed the backpack to the customs officer without a second thought. As the customs officer felt something odd, she cut the backpack open and found, to Bala’s horror, white powder, which turned out to be heroin. The next thing he knew, he was handcuffed.
“I (have) never been in trouble with the law back in Malaysia. So, it was totally a nightmare. Tears; flowing through my eyes like a river.”
“He’s my own friend. He asked for help and I was helping him. But he knew the plan he and his boss had in mind. But still he kept silent. He stabbed me from the back. I don’t know how could he betray me. I don’t know
eitherwhether he’s guilty for what he did to me but his prison is his own guilt.”
2. All Shirley wanted was her first holiday overseas
Those who have watched the documentary would be familiar with Shirley’s story, as told to R.AGE by the teenager herself from behind a glass panel at a Hong Kong prison. The daughter of two food stall owners, Shirley and her parents had never been overseas.
The trouble started when she made friends with a guy on Facebook when she was only 16. After a few conversations, the guy offered her an all-expenses-paid holiday in Hong Kong.
“She begged me to let her go with them. I felt bad because we never had the money to bring her for a holiday overseas, but I still said no. In the end, we just couldn’t stop her.” – Shirley’s mom told R.AGE about the last time she saw her only child.
She met the guy in a mall to collect her flight ticket and RM2,000 of allowance, despite her parents’ objections. Before she left for her flight, one of the men gave her a pair of shoes to wear. When she landed, this is what the customs officer found.
This led to a 20-year jail sentence for the minor for possession of heroin. Sadly, no one told her parents, who only found out about her arrest 2 months later when they received a phone call from the Hong Kong Correctional Services, after frantically searching for her everywhere. Her parents flying to HK to see her was their first ever overseas flight.
Her letter was one filled with remorse and love. :'(
“We haven’t met in a month. You all have probably lost a lot of weight. I’m sorry, you both must be worried, I still need to trouble you all to come and visit me, and I’m sure you all are not even familiar with the roads here. Sigh, I’m so sorry I have not been fulfilling the responsibility of being a good daughter.” – Shirley wrote in her letter to her parents.
3. Ramesh was told to sneak a bit of gold past customs
First, let’s do a poll to be fair k? Don’t worry… totally anonymous this one. Promise.
Unlike the first 2 letters, Ramesh’s letter didn’t have a lot of details about his recruitment, journey and arrest. But there was one thing that could nearly push you off your chair.
The recruiters apparently didn’t know what they were doing. WHAT?! Hold on, hear us out. According to Ramesh in his letter, there’s a ‘Big Boss’ in this syndicate who knows everything that’s happening, so in his case, the ‘Big Boss’ told the recruiters that it was a gold smuggling job. Not drugs. GOLD.
We know it’s not drugs but smuggling gold is also a bad idea, since not declaring gold can land you in trouble. But you’d be surprised as to what’s illegal to bring through customs. Earlier this year, even our Sosbos got caught out by bringing back pork-based products into Malaysia. So yes, we can emphatise with Ramesh here.
“It’s almost unbelievable that I ended up as an inmate for the crime which I don’t even intend to do in my life time. It absolutely affected my studies and dream to become a police officer. Since I ended up myself here, I just couldn’t imagine or (have) no idea at all about how my future is going to be…
After got to know about my arrest, my father had a mild stroke. Honestly, words are insufficient to express about the excruciating pain that my family (is) going thru without me at their side.”
Despite having some regrets, Ramesh remains optimistic and hopeful that he won’t be charged as guilty and instead gain back his freedom and turn over a new leaf.
4. Elyana lost her Embassy job because she trusted an online ‘friend’
As we went through the collection of letters, we learnt that it’s not just high school and college students who kena tricked into smuggling drugs into Hong Kong. Elyana, a single mother of three kids, lost everything in her life in a split second, all because she trusted an online friend.
She didn’t mention in her letter about why she agreed and what she was told to do but she did write down the address of the detention centre where she spends her days now. And we wouldn’t be too sure if financial constraints motivated her to agree to do what her online friend told her to do, since she used to work for an Embassy and provide for her family. Since she’s not there anymore, her children are now being taken care of by her parents.
“I have lost my job. I am away from my family. Unable to see them but thanks to the consulate of Malaysia for helping me to speak to my family frequently. I have lost my home. I am a single mother, the sole breadwinner of my family, (but) now, I am unable to provide.
My family has to face the embarrassment because the surrounding will see their daughter/mother/sister/sister-in-law, as a convict without even knowing the truth. My children who had never been away from me is now left without a mother.“
5. And James, who thought of doing it just that one time.
“For money, you only have to pass the gate.” – James
Although 19-year old James’ letter didn’t inform us much about the recruitment and journey, he did say that he needed the money because his family is really poor, with no parent able enough to provide support because his dad is old and his mom passed away. So, taking any job he was offered made sense to him.
However, it seems that he underestimated the consequences because he was still caught and later had to call the detention centre his new home, away from his family. 🙁
“I feel regret now, why did I choose this job? Was the money worth it? There is no going back after my mistake, only time can change everything.”
Just be extra careful – the risk might be small, but the penalty is massive
There is one common theme in all these stories. Very rarely were the perpetrators caught. Essentially the drug-mule trade is the economies of finding someone else to take the risk for you, and they’re willing to pay top dollar for it.
Yes yes, we know that customs aren’t exactly the most meticulous people sometimes, so there’s a simple formula to use here.
Eventhough the risk of getting caught carrying something through customs is fairly low, the loss (or punishment) is years in prison, and bye bye career. Despite that, there’s a rising number of Malaysian drug mules, with a total of 425 detained in other countries between 2013 and October 2018.
Some seem to know what they’re doing, while some didn’t, but twhat’s clear though is that they all have regrets and lessons to share with everyone. One common piece of advice is to be careful of who you trust.
“I urge all Malaysians to be careful with foreign friends who you are acquainted with through social media. Even if you think they are genuine friends, be careful because they might be fox in disguise. They wait for years before they show their true colours.” – Elyana.
And if you think you can handle jail, there are better reasons to avoid agreeing to doing something absurd for money, one being that there are more important things in life.
“Never do money in illegal way. Life is short and time is very fast. Spend it wisely. And remember family comes first.” – Bala.
“I hope Malaysians never fall into the same hole as I did. It is not worth it. Don’t give your family, friends and time up just for a little amount of money. They are very precious, don’t worry them with your actions.” – James.
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