Australian Federal Police
A member of the Australian Federal Police holds methamphetamine seized from an elderly couple who were allegedly conned into transporting it from Canada to Australia.
An elderly Australian couple became unwitting drug mules when a bogus travel company hid almost $7 million of methamphetamine in their suitcases, police said Friday.
The travel company told the couple they had won an all-expenses-paid trip to Canada, and threw in a new set of luggage for free, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said.
But after their week in North America, the 72-year-old man and his 64-year-old wife became suspicious about their suitcases and reported them to customs when they arrived back in Australia.
An X-ray scan at the Perth airport showed irregularities in the luggage linings, and inside each case was nearly 8 lbs of methamphetamine, known as “meth.”
The AFP valued the drugs haul at AU$7 million (about $6.7 million U.S.). Officers believe it was concealed in the bags in Canada with the intention that it would be transported back to Australia.
The 64-year-old female victim, who was named only as Sue in The Australian newspaper, said they had initially feared they would be jailed for the rest of their lives.
"I could have ended up in jail for 25 years, and they could have ruined my life," she said.
Australian Federal Police
A screenshot of the 'Auscan' website that was used to trick the couple.
The AFP believes the couple were the victims of a complex scam targeting elderly Australians. Officers said this was orchestrated by a fake Canadian-based tour company identifying itself as AUSCAN Tours.
The AFP provided NBC News with a screenshot of the company's website, but this along with all contact information has been taken offline.
The incident happened on October 13 but Australian police only released the details on Friday.
After reporting their suspicious bags, the couple told police they were due to meet someone at the airport. From this information, police arrested a 38-year-old Canadian man and charged him with attempting to transport a border-controlled drug, for which the maximum jail sentence is life in prison.
Investigators were also led to a hotel where they found documents relating to the scam, as well as AU$15,000 in cash, the AFP said.
"The organizers of this scam went to great lengths to provide a facade of legitimacy," AFP Perth Airport Police Commander David Bachi said. "Thankfully the travelers contacted customs and didn't dismiss their concerns, allowing us to make the arrest."
First published October 25 2013, 8:08 AM