. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

British, Dutch Women Facing Drugs Charges

An 18-year-old British woman and a Dutch fellow airplane passenger have been arrested on charges of smuggling more than 9 kilograms of cocaine into Russia and are awaiting trial at Moscow's Butyrskaya prison, officials said Tuesday.

Briton Karen Henderson and Suzanne Gerarda, 23, were arrested at Sheremetyevo 2 airport on Feb. 6, said Vladimir Sergeyev, who is heading the investigation for the Russian police.

The two women had brought about 4.5 kilos of cocaine each in false-bottomed suitcases on a flight from Cuba and had planned to fly on to Warsaw after stopping at Sheremetyevo, Sergeyev added.

"The Russian authorities are looking into the matter now while she remains in detention," press spokesman at the British Embassy Ian Hay-Campbell said of Henderson, adding that as far as he knew, no date has been set for the trial.

If found guilty, Henderson and Gerarda face a minimum sentence of six years and a maximum of 15 years in a labor camp, according to Sergeyev.

The two women apparently had different explanations of how the drugs, which have an estimated street value of about $1.8 million in Moscow, came to be in their suitcases.

Gerarda immediately confessed that they had been for the trip. They knew what they were doing."

Gerald Portegies, consul of the Dutch Embassy, declined to comment until a final verdict has been reached in the case.

"The embassy does not give information on arrests," he said.

Henderson's mother, Faith Tuit, 48, a Dutch citizen, came to Moscow last week to visit her daughter in prison and said her daughter had never used drugs.

"My daughter is a nice girl," she said, describing her as interested in sports and not drugs.

"The right and the best place for my daughter to stay is at home, not in a Russian prison," she added.

While Henderson initially had to struggle with other inmates who envied her clothes, she soon impressed them with her kickboxing skills, which won her some respect, according to her first lawyer, Alexander Gofstein, who has since resigned from the case.

"It was a nightmare bringing them in here because they couldn't speak a word of Russian," said a prison official who identified himself only as Valentin.

Butyrskaya prison is Moscow's largest and most notorious remand prison, housing 7,000 inmates in cells built for 3,500.

The average time for pre-trial detention in Russia is 10 months.

If convicted, the women would serve out their terms at a labor camp for foreigners in Mordovia, some 700 kilometers east of Moscow, according to Sergeyev.

In 1995, Russian customs officials and police confiscated more than six tons of drugs and raw narcotics in smuggling attempts, Interfax reported Tuesday.

"The dynamics of the first few months of 1996 indicate the continuous growth of drug smuggling into Russia," the agency quoted Customs Committee Chairman Anatoly Kruglov, as saying. "Each daily report carries information on the seizure of poppy stems, ephedrine or other drugs."

And according to Kruglov, this is a sign of increasing crime rather than growing successes on behalf of those who uncover it.

"Even the growth of drug seizures by customs officials should not reassure anyone," he said.

"This is not so much indicative of more efficient control at the Russian borders as of the growing scope of drug circulation on the Russian market," he added.

Sergeyev, however, seemed more optimistic that arrests such as Henderson and Gerarda's would serve to deter other potential traffickers.

"Russia tends to become a transit point for drugs, but we shall do everything to avoid that problem," he said. "I want this to be a good lesson for other adventurists, no matter what country they are from."