A New Zealand pastor has been found guilty of importing more than nine kilograms of methamphetamine and heroin into Australia. Bernadine Terry Prince, who also goes by the name of Pastor Bernie McCully, is facing up to three years in jail after a Supreme Court jury in Darwin found her guilty on Thursday.
Ms Prince has been in custody since her arrest in Darwin in May 2013. She was charged with importing a commercial quantity of a border-controlled substance.
As a pastor for an evangelical Christian organisation called Oasis of Grace, Ms Prince, 41, had been travelling in Kenya and Cambodia, and was returning to Australia when her luggage was delayed in Singapore.
When her bags arrived in Darwin, a Customs officer detected traces of drugs on seven vinyl backpacks, which were unusually heavy, as per the Australian Associated Press.
The officer then discovered packages sewn into each backpack containing crystal methamphetamine and heroin with a combined weight of over 9 kilograms and which had a street value of up to AUD2 million.
Ms Prince, who is originally from Whakatane, denied any knowledge of the drugs inside the backpacks. She told the police that a Kenyan woman known as “Mummy Rose” suggested that she sell the bags, which she had been told were made by Kenyan men and women, to her Australian congregation to raise funds. Mummy Rose and her son apparently packed the bags into her suitcases with her.
But Crown prosecutor Glen Rice didn’t believe her, saying that the bags were commercially made and could have been manufactured anywhere. They were also tagged as made in China.
Mr Rice added that the cardboard used to pack the drugs was from Cambodia, which could mean that the backpacks were not obtained in Kenya or were filled with the drugs during her four days in Cambodia on her return trip.
She is due to be sentenced next week, and is facing a maximum of three years imprisonment and AUD340,000 fine.