Easy targets: Drug mules fill women’s jails in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (AFP) – Zoila Lecarnaque Saavedra sealed her fate when she agreed to transport a package from Peru to Hong Kong – a decision that landed her more than eight years in prison.

A quarter of Hong Kong’s prisoners are women, a record-high percentage skewed by impoverished foreign drug mules who are often duped or coerced.

Awaiting deportation after her release, Lecarnaque Saavedra sat on a bunk bed in a cramped hostel and described how she lost her gamble for quick money.

It was 2013 and she was broke. Her husband, the main breadwinner for her family in Peru’s capital Lima, had recently left and she needed eye surgery.

Word got around the neighbourhood and she said she was soon approached by a woman who offered her a deal: fly to Hong Kong to pick up tax-free electronics that could be sold for a profit on return, and be paid US$2,000 (S$2,764).

“They find people who are in a precarious economic situation,” Lecarnaque Saavedra told AFP. “They look for them and in this case it was me.”

A diminutive figure with a face lined by hardship, 60-year-old Lecarnaque Saavedra said she wanted to warn others who might be tempted by such deals.

She lost composure when recounting the moment customs officers pulled her aside and it dawned on her she would not be seeing her daughter and mother for many years.

“I reflected on the damage I caused to my family, to my children, to my mother, because they were the ones who felt worse than me and that hurts me,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.

She described how officers found two jackets inside her suitcase that had been filled with condoms containing about 500g of cocaine in liquid form.

In the hopes of receiving a lighter sentence, Lecarnaque Saavedra pleaded guilty, though she maintains she did not know about the cocaine and was never paid.

“The bosses are free, they have not been arrested and I don’t know why,” she said.