British teens smuggled cocaine, officials say

/ Source: The Associated Press

Two 16-year-old British girls carried laptops and suitcases stuffed with $600,000 worth of cocaine in return for a paid vacation, British and Ghanaian customs officials said Thursday.

The teens, both London students, were detained July 2 trying to return to Britain with more than 13 pounds of drugs, said Mark Ewuntomah, a Ghana Narcotics Control Board spokesman.

They were provisionally charged with drug possession and drug trafficking. If convicted, they face at least 10 years in prison if tried as adults, or would serve the time in juvenile detention, he said.

The two are receiving guidance from British consular officials, a Foreign Office spokeswoman said in London.

"I think what they did is only dawning on them now," said Beryl St. James, a spokeswoman for Britain's HM Revenue and Customs in London.

Their laptop cases' weight gave them away, Ewuntomah said. Ghanaian customs officials found a false compartment in their cases, which they cut open to reveal white powder, he said.

Drug traffickers recruited the pair in London with a promised all expenses-paid vacation in return for serving as "mules" — drug couriers, St. James said. The teens left for Africa telling their parents they were visiting France, she said.

Given money, party spokesman said
They were met at Accra airport by two men who took them to a nearby hotel and promised them $6,000 each in return for transporting the luggage packed with cocaine, Ewuntomah said.

The night before their departure, the men threw them a party before seeing them off, he said.

"The use of such young girls as couriers vividly illustrates the ruthlessness of the criminal drug gangs involved in this traffic," Tony Walker, a British official who heads a joint British-Ghanaian operation to crack down on drug trafficking, said in a statement.

British and Ghanaian officials began collaborating last year after a spike in drug-related arrests at London airports linked to flights from West Africa.

West Africa has become a new drug trafficking route. Cocaine, originating mostly in Colombia, is brought on small planes and dropped off on islands off the West African coast and then distributed to couriers who carry it on to Europe.

On Thursday, the two girls were allowed to walk freely around the Narcotics Control Board's juvenile wing, where they were being held. Their cell was bare but for two twin-sized mattresses on the cement floor.

"We don't want to talk to anyone right now," one teen told The Associated Press. Both were dressed in T-shirts and slacks.