Tourist arrested, held in custody for 5 days after Australian officials mistake tea for drugs
MELBOURNE, Australia — A Filipino tourist was cleared of wrongdoing Thursday after spending five days in custody after Australian officials mistook packets of tea for amphetamines.
Melbourne Judge Jack Vandersteen ordered the director of public prosecutions to pay 5,000 Australian dollars (US$4,600) to Maria Cecilia Silva, 29, for her ordeal.
When Silva arrived in Melbourne airport from the Philippines on Saturday, drug-detection dogs reacted to ice tea packets in her luggage.
Customs determined there were amphetamines in three packets of lemon-flavoured ice tea and handed Silva over to the Australian Federal Police.
Follow-up tests, however, were negative, and prosecutors withdrew the charge of importing drugs.
A tearful Silva clung to a female prison guard as she was led through the court to a waiting friend.
"She's a totally innocent young lady who has experienced five days in an horrendous situation having her liberty taken away and placed in cells with some serious offenders," said her lawyer, Michael Penna-Rees. "She's traumatized, she's lost a lot of weight and she'll be seeing a doctor."
He said the tea was purchased in a Philippine supermarket and had never been opened.