Chinese woman jailed in Australia after $1+ billion record drug bust involving fake cocaine as a lure

Australia Chinese QianQian Hu

A 37-year-old Chinese national was sentenced to three years in jail for her role in what is believed to have been the nation's biggest drug bust worth well over $1 billion.

QianQian Hu was arrested in January near the WA Goldfields town of Coolgardie, two weeks after a group of men were arrested off the coast north of Perth. Those men allegedly tried to retrieve almost 2.4 tonnes of what they thought was cocaine, which police say had originated from a Mexican cartel.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration intercepted the cocaine off the South American Coast in November. The drugs were then seized by police and replaced with another substance.

Police say Hu was driven by her then-partner in a rented Kia Carnival when it was stopped south of Coolgardie.

A search of the vehicle uncovered a duffel bag full of cash and three mobile phones, two of which belonged to Hu.

The car was then brought to Perth where it was searched more thoroughly, and two more bags were found, with police eventually locating a total of $2,087,325 in cash.

Hu initially denied any involvement with the money, but in April she pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering. During sentencing, the Perth District Court heard Hu had been tasked by an unknown member of a sophisticated syndicate, known only as "Lovely Girl".

She had been directed to collect the money from bags hidden in bushland in the Perth suburb of Forrestdale, and then transport it to the eastern states.

The job was expected to take about one week, for which Hu would receive payment of $10,000.

Judge Charlotte Wallace said the fact Hu was trusted to handle the money — and told how much was involved — showed she was a trusted member of the syndicate despite being a low-level conspirator.

Judge Wallace also noted Hu's illegal status in Australia, following the expiration of her student visa in 2021, was an aggravated factor in her offending.

"It indicates a disregard for the laws [of the nation] and it indicates a certain frame of mind," she said.

Judge Wallace also referred to a character reference provided by Hu's parents, who remain in China.

They said they were devastated for their only daughter, who had previously completed a law degree in her native country.

"They believe you have lost your way temporarily, but they have a lot of faith in you," she said.

But she said Hu's lack of prior offending did not necessarily act in her favour, considering she had only been in Australia since 2018.

"The fact you were here for a significant period of time without legal status taints [your prior good character]," she said.

Judge Wallace also gave little weight to defence suggestions Hu had shown genuine remorse for her actions, and said that appeared to be a pattern of behaviour.

"There seems to be a degree of wanting to apportion blame on the co-accused," she said.

That co-accused, Hu's former partner 39-year-old Tao Zheng, maintains his innocence and is due to face trial next year.

Hu did not speak during the sentencing hearing aside from restating her guilty plea, and was provided with a Mandarin interpreter for the proceedings.

She was facing a maximum penalty of 20 years jail, but Judge Wallace took into account her early guilty plea, as well as her seemingly lower-level role in the syndicate.

Hu's sentence was backdated to her arrest in January, and she was made eligible for parole, meaning she could be released as early as July 2024, at which point she is almost certain to be deported.

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