Aussie mum of five faces death penalty on drug charges in Taiwan

The Nightly
Australian mother of five Debbie Voulgaris faces a potential death penalty in Taiwan after being arrested at an airport allegedly with 7kg of drugs in her suitcase.
Australian mother of five Debbie Voulgaris faces a potential death penalty in Taiwan after being arrested at an airport allegedly with 7kg of drugs in her suitcase. Credit: Taiwan Police/change.org

An Australian mother of five faces a potential death penalty in Taiwan after being arrested at an airport with 7kg of drugs in her suitcase.

A lawyer for Debbie Voulgaris, 57, told a court her ex-husband John was responsible for the drugs after a court appearance early Thursday in the nation’s capital, according to reports.

Ms Voulgaris has been in a Taiwanese prison since her arrest at Taoyuan International Airport in December when authorities say they found 7kg of heroin and cocaine.

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Her lawyer Leon Huang said that she was not aware of the drugs she was carrying.

“Based on her description … it appeared that number one, Ms Debbie Voulgaris was not aware of the nature of her travelling,” Ms Voulgaris’s lawyer, Leon Huang, told the ABC.’

“And number two, she had no idea of what’s placed inside and under her luggage, because there is a hidden compartment and she wasn’t aware of that.”

The ABC quoted an indictment by the Taoyuan District Prosecutors that described Voulgaris as being in a “drug transport syndicate”.

“Although the defendant confessed to the crime during the court’s preparatory proceedings, it is noted that she had previously vehemently denied the crime during the investigation and detention interrogation by this court, and her statements have been inconsistent,” the indictment said.

“Notably, the defendant claimed that the co-conspirator, John, who instructed her to bring category one narcotics to Taiwan, is her ex-husband, indicating a close relationship.

“The defendant and her lawyer requested that John be summoned to testify during the preparatory proceedings, implying that there remains a risk of collusion with John before his testimony.”

Mr Huang said it was “essential” that John take the stand to clear her name and that his team was preparing a subpoena.

Taiwan police allege she was paid $2,700 to transport the drugs with her travel cost also included.

Authorities in Taiwan said the drugs had a value of AUD$1.9m.

Mr Huang said his client was “a very good-natured person, and she believed people easily”.

“The deal that Miss Voulgaris got was actually pretty bad — red-eye flights and then she was sent to Malaysia to stay in a really crappy hotel for a day or two, and then she flew over to Taipei.

“And the so-called compensation that she was offered was minimal … so I think I believe her statements … she’s been used as a mule or something like that in the international drug transportation network, and we see a lot of examples like this.”

Voulgaris is next due to appear in court in August.

Mr Huang said the penalties for her alleged crime ranged from five years in prison to the death penalty.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been approached for comment.

A Change.org petition to support Voulgaris had gathered at least 3000 signatures before it was shut down.

“Anyone who knows her or has met her, understands the pure, kind heart she has,” it said.

“She is a mother to five children and she could be facing the death penalty or life in prison.

“Please sign the petition to help towards the freedom of an innocent, pure-hearted mother.”

More to come.

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