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Punjabi female attendant with Air Canada jailed for cocaine smuggling

By Gurmukh Singh, IANS,

Toronto : In the first case of jailing of an Indo-Canadian woman for drug trafficking, an Air Canada female flight attendant was Monday locked for eight years by a London court for smuggling four kg of cocaine into Britain.

Twenty-seven-year-old Mandeep Shahi of Toronto’s suburb of Mississauga was arrested in March for smuggling the contraband worth $400,000 in her flight from Toronto’s Pearson airport to London’s Heathrow. She pleaded guilty to her crime in September.

According to police, Shahi managed to smuggle the contraband because she was exempted from security check-up and deliver it to her three co-conspirators in London. The co-conspirators – Simon Howard-Harwood, 28, Baljinder Nijjar, 28, and Ghulam Malik, 53 – all of whom are British citizens, were also convicted Monday.

The female flight attendant is married to co-conspirator Baljinder Nijjar’s cousin here in Mississauga.

A weeping Shahi told the court during her sentencing hearing that her husband might have put the drugs in her suitcase without her knowledge.

Coming hard on Shahi for taking advantage of security exemption granted to her because of her job, the judge was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail, “‘You knew from your seven or eight previous visits as air crew that the chances of your person or luggage being searched was nil, so when your husband told you, you could not say no and did not say no.

“Whether you were happy to do it or had reservations, I have no idea, but the fact is you were not acting under duress, and you could have chosen not to.”

Turning to her husband’s cousin and co-conspirator Nijjer, the judge said, “As you well knew through your cousin, and perhaps Miss Shahi, Canada is not regarded as a country that poses a great risk of prohibited drugs being brought to this country.

“The fact of the matter is, as an officer who works at Heathrow told the court, there is virtually a nil risk that flights coming into this country from Canada would be subjected to random checks of crew.”

The co-conspirators were already under police surveillance for their drug smuggling activities when Shahi was caught delivering the contraband.

Police got into action March 26 when they saw Shahi check into the Danubius Hotel in central London and then found Nijjer enter her room and leave with an Air Canada bag with the drugs.

All the three co-conspirators were nabbed immediately.

Though many Indo-Canadian men have been sentenced for drug smuggling in Canada and the US, it is the first time that an Indo-Canadian woman has been jailed for a drug-related crime.

(Gurmukh Singh can be contacted at [email protected])