For four-and-a-half years, author Kathryn Bonella has been running with dangerous company. The former 60 Minutes journalist infiltrated drug circles in Brazil to research her latest book. And she found out that not all traffickers are desperate favela dwellers – quite the opposite.Brazilian drug smuggler Rodrigo Gularte escorted by Indonesian National Drug Bureau officers shortly after he was shown to journalists at an airport, in Tangerang, Banten, Indonesia. (AAP)
In “Operation Playboy”, Bonella reveals that many of Brazil’s top drug kingpins are in fact well-educated, multilingual men from wealthy families with a love of surfing and extreme sports.
Bonella told 9News.com.au that over the course of her research, she came to recognise a common trait: namely, all were adrenaline junkies.
“They live a hedonistic life of glamour, but they’re always walking on a tightrope and can – at any time – fall to great depths,” Bonella says.
“They’re literally playing Russian roulette with a firing squad.”Bali Nine members Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan in a holding cell at Denpasar Court in February 2006. (AAP)
Bonella said many of the playboys themselves started as drug runners to their sustain extreme sports lifestyle, only to instead develop a thrill-seeking addiction to the international drug trade.
“One of them called it ‘better than an orgasm’,” she recalls.
Some eventually go on to build firms running Cocaine-Cassie style operations.
With a single kilo of cocaine raking in an estimated $250,000 in Australia – a drastically higher figure than the Peru street price of $2000 – the temptation is understandable.Chairman of Indonesian National Drug bureau Makbul Padmanegara shows the six kilograms of smuggled heroin. (AAP)
Bonella recounts one instance where a busted mule looked at an high-rise apartment from his cell window and called it – and the “ball-and-chain of 9 to 5” it represented – the real “prison”.
Ironic that this man’s dreams of wealth and freedom – like the dreams of so many mules – ended with imprisonment.
Rodrigo Gularte wasn’t so lucky. The 42-year-old Brazilian was arrested after Bali authorities discovered he was carrying a surfboard loaded with cocaine in August 2004.
Gularte was convicted and eventually executed alongside Bali Nine members Myuran Sukumaran, 34, and Andrew Chan, 31, on April 29, 2015.
The Nine comprised a group of Australians arrested in April 2005 over an attempt to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin out of Indonesia and into Australia.A customs officer inspects surfing boards used by Brazil’s citizen Rodrigo Gularte to smuggle six kilograms of cocaine. (AAP)
Six other members of the group are currently serving life sentences, while another was handed a 20-year sentence.
A year prior, Gold Coast woman Schapelle Corby was arrested upon arrival in Bali after she was found carrying 4.2kg of cannabis in her body board bag.
Corby was sentenced in May 2005 to 20 years in jail. Her sentence was later commuted and she was deported back to Australia in May 2017.
Bonella co-authored Corby’s story in her 2006 book, My Story: Schapelle Corby.An Indonesian clergyman, nuns and mourners pray in front of Brazilian Rodrigo Gularte’s coffin at Saint Carolus funeral Home in Jakarta, Indonesia. (AAP)
She said Gularte was sent to Bali at the whim of one drug lord – eight days after another friend had been given a death sentence in Indonesia.
It was a decision the man would later come to regret.
“He said to me during an interview, ‘I have blood on my hands’,” Bonella says.
The arrests of Gularte, the Bali Nine and Corby were only possible because of airport police, specially trained to identify traffickers.Australian Schapelle Corby is escorted by Bali Police at the parole office in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia. (AAP)
Bonella says it’s often the smallest clue that tips officers off, from travellers who look “incongruous” to their luggage, to a single “bead of sweat”.
“The best drug traffickers are the ones who are calm, relaxed, have travelled extensively and are cool in an airport, and ready with a story up their sleeve,” Bonella says.
“The most common one is the one Cocaine Cassie used, which was ‘My family was threatened’ – very, very common excuse.
“Or, ‘Someone gave me the bag, I didn’t know what was in the bag’.”A police officer escorts Australian Cassandra Sainsbury to a court hearing in Bogota, Colombia. (AAP)Kathryn Bonella has covered the international drug trade over three books, in “Operation Playboy”, “Snowing in Bali” and “Hotel Kerobokan“. (Supplied)
Cassie Sainsbury was convicted of cocaine smuggling and accepted a plea deal of six years on November 1. Time served and good behaviour could see her released as early as 2020.
And while she be spending the next few years staring at the walls of a Bogota prison, unlike Gularte, she’ll at least walk away with her life.
© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2017