A distraught Sharon Armstrong says she was duped into smuggling five kilograms of cocaine by an online lover.
“Oh God, I feel so foolish,” she told The Dominion Post from her Argentinian cell yesterday. “You know I’ve worked for the government for 20 years. I’ve just been a silly old lady. Silly, silly, silly and too trusting. I’ve been scammed. This is just so shameful.”
Friends and family say her arrest is out of character and believe Ms Armstrong, 54, is the victim of an online dating scam.
The former deputy chief executive of the Maori Language Commission had been a contractor at Wellington Maori education and language company Haemata since February.
An Argentinian official said she was arrested on April 13 as she was waiting to board British Airways flight BA2444 to London.
The cocaine was found after she had checked in her baggage, the official said. A security scan revealed the cocaine concealed by a false bottom in her suitcase.
For several months, Ms Armstrong had been exchanging emails and chatting on Skype with a man she had met online.
She was due to travel to London to meet him but, at the last minute, her flights were changed to go via Argentina, where the man reportedly asked her to pick up some documents relating to a new job.
Friends and family repeatedly warned Ms Armstrong it could be a scam. But the man had put about $1000 toward the cost of the altered tickets, and she thought he was legitimate. She has not heard from him since her arrest.
Considering her family and friends warned her it was a scam, one would have thought that any request to take someone’s luggage should have been refused – especially from someone you have never met.
I’ve only once taken an item for someone else on a plane, and that was taking a pram to London for a very good friend’s pregnant sister.
The latest update is:
A former top public servant accused of cocaine smuggling in Argentina has defended carrying more than one driver’s licence, saying she is “not a criminal”.
Sharon Armstrong, 54, was arrested by police in a Buenos Aires airport about two weeks ago after 5 kilograms of cocaine was discovered in the false bottom of her suitcase.
Police confiscated personal effects, including an iPhone, passport, Farmers card and Argentinian, Australian and United States cash. Officials said they also found four driver licences.
But Ms Armstrong said yesterday she had three licences – New Zealand, Australian and Cook Islands – with her. The Australian licence was for when she visited family, and the $10 Cook Islands licence had expired.
If they are all in your name it is not that suspicious. However while IIRC the Cooks do require you to get a local licence (earns them revenue), as far as I know one can use a NZ licence in Australia. So it does raise some suspicions.
I don’t know Sharon Armstrong, and hope if she is an innocent dupe she is not punished for her stupidity. But I hope she can provide some proof that she was doing this for love, not payment. The difference is several years jail.