Global gangs targeting Australian high-school students as drug mules

SYDNEY (AFP) - The Australian authorities on Monday warned that high-school students were being recruited by international drug syndicates to help them bring illicit substances into the country.

The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service said students were allegedly asked to reveal their home addresses so they could collect parcels containing drug precursors, reportedly from China, in exchange for a few hundred dollars.

"In this type of situation, a student is approached by criminals and tricked by an offer of earning so-called 'easy money' to pick up or receive a package concealing an illegal substance," regional director Tim Fitzgerald said.

"These 'initial receivers' collect, or take delivery of the goods and pass these substances onto the criminals."

In a case uncovered by the authorities this year, two Sydney-based teenagers were allegedly paid several hundred dollars to accept parcels - one of which held four kilos of ephedrine, enough to make A$250,000 (S$286,672) of the drug crystal meth, or "ice".

Mr Fitzgerald said while the parcels looked harmless, substances were hidden inside the contents, as he warned students against accepting offers they might see on social networking sites or receive via text message.

"They've got general goods inside them, in some instances like motorbike helmets, LED lights and shoes, and within those goods are concealed precursors such as ephedrine," he told broadcaster ABC.

"The promises that the syndicates give these students in a lot of instances is that because of their age, they won't be held legally responsible and that's completely incorrect," Mr Fitzgerald added.

Those caught importing a border-controlled precursor, such as ephedrine, could face a fine of up to A$850,000 or 25 years in prison.

New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said it was not known how widespread the practice was, but he urged parents to be vigilant because "organised criminals don't care about your children".

"I don't think that I've heard of a lower act than trying to get our children involved in this grubby business that these drug importers, these merchants of misery, are involved in," he said.