A teenage drug mule who smuggled more than HK$20 million (US$2.6 million) worth of cocaine into Hong Kong in return for cash to support her mother was jailed for 17 years and six months by a court on Wednesday.
Mr Justice Alex Lee Wan-tang said the girl, who was 15 years old at the time of the offence and whose name has been withheld by the Post because of her age, had committed extremely serious offences that warranted a starting point of sentence at no less than 30 years.
But he decided to grant a 45 per cent sentencing discount to give her a chance to turn over a new leaf, considering her age and guilty plea, as well as the useful information she had offered to investigators.
“The court is unwilling to pass a sentence too severe that may cause her to lose hope in life,” Lee said.
But the judge was not so generous in sentencing her co-defendant Chan Shun-yee, 26, who had instructed her to deliver the drugs across the border. Lee said the exploitation of a minor was an aggravating factor and sentenced the unemployed man to 22 years.
Neither of the defendants showed visible reaction to the jail terms, while their family members sobbed in the public gallery.
“Take care of mum,” Chan said, before he was escorted away.
The High Court heard the teenager was intercepted at Shenzhen Bay immigration control point on July 4, 2017 when she tried to enter the city in a seven-seater car.
Officers opened her suitcase to find 20 packages, containing 16.79kg (47lbs) of cocaine with an estimated street value of HK$20.32 million.
She later admitted she had delivered similar packages from Shenzhen to Kwun Tong on four other occasions since June 11 that year, after a guy friend nicknamed “Frog” suddenly called to ask for her help.
Each time she was paid between HK$10,000 and HK$15,000 (US$1,281 to US$1,921).
Chan was arrested on the same day, and admitted he had agreed to be involved because he needed money to pay rent.
The girl, now 17, pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to traffic in a dangerous drug, while Chan admitted to one count of the same charge.
In mitigation, her counsel Michael Leung said one of the offences only came to light by her own admission, and she had provided useful information which appeared to have influenced Chan’s plea.
He also revealed that his mainland-born client had a difficult childhood since her parents separated when she was 3.
The court heard she was passed around among relatives, traumatised by her cousin’s sexual assault when she was 10, and secretly photographed by her uncle – but was told to apologise to him instead.
When she was later reunited with her mother, she found her parent living a difficult life so she agreed to the offer to make money, foolishly believing it was a job, Leung said.
Meanwhile, letters submitted in Chan’s mitigation suggested he was devoted to his mother and that he regretted his actions.
Both defendants had no previous criminal convictions.