A Malaysian flight attendant who smuggled millions of dollars’ worth of heroin into Australia by stuffing it inside her underwear has been sentenced to nine and a half years in jail.
Zailee Zainal, a 40-year-old former hostess on the Malaysian carrier Malindo Air, trafficked more than four kilograms of heroin across eight trips between October 2018 and January 2019, hiding the drug packages between her legs and inside her bra, and storing them in a toilet during each flight.
She was arrested by Australian Border Force after being selected for a search at Melbourne Airport in January 2019, and later pleaded guilty to one charge of importing a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug.
The court heard that Zainal smuggled the heroin on behalf of an international crime syndicate, who recruited her after learning that she was desperate to pay for her daughter's medical bills. Zainal had drawn down on her mortgage and started selling brownies and Tupperware to make some extra money, and eventually asked Malindo Air to canvas for donations on her behalf, according to the ABC.
"It was after that email that someone I thought was a friend approached me as a carrier," Zainal told the court. "I was vulnerable and at the time willing to do anything."
“I'm deeply ashamed and so sorry I became involved. I take full responsibility for my actions."
Zainal’s case follows previous arrests of Malaysian flight attendants over drug smuggling from the capital Kuala Lumpur. In May 2018, a male flight attendant working with the Malaysia Airlines national carrier was detained at Melbourne International Airport for allegedly smuggling $1.03 million worth of heroin. The airline confirmed his arrest and pledged “its fullest cooperation” with Australian authorities.
The syndicate reportedly trained Zainal, teaching her to talk in code and walk confidently with a package between her legs by practicing with a pillow. Upon touching down in Australia, she would go to a hotel and exchange the heroin for cash in the toilet.
Over the course of the eight trips she earned just $6,500. In total, the heroin was worth about $3 million in street value.
In handing down her almost decade-long sentence on Thursday, County Court Judge Michael Cahill said that Zainal, a mother-of-three, deserved to be shown some leniency.
"There is a place for the exercise of mercy in sentencing," Cahill said. "You felt that you had no other option other than to commit a crime. You were desperate to raise money to pay for the operations your daughter needs to improve her quality of life."
Judge Cahill further noted that the defendant was “very unlikely to reoffend.”
Zainal has already served 640 days of pre-sentence detention, and will be eligible for parole in about three years. The maximum penalty for the offence is life in prison.
The court also heard that Zainal’s children, who are still in Malaysia, call her in prison where she helps them with their homeschooling.
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