The sentencing of three young Australians in Hong Kong has raised more questions about the role of Australian police in alerting foreign authorities to drug smuggling plots involving Australians.
The trio, who were convicted of heroin smuggling in Hong Kong, have each been sentenced to at least a decade in prison and now have 28 days in which to lodge an appeal.
Two of the traffickers were under the age of 18 when they were arrested in a Hong Kong hotel room in April last year in possession of 700 grams of heroin.
Criticism has been levelled at the New South Wales and Australian Federal Police (AFP) for alerting local authorities to the heroin plot instead of waiting to arrest the Australians once they returned home.
Rachel Ann Diaz, a former trainee hairdresser from Sydney, was only 17-years-old when she agreed to smuggle heroin from Hong Kong to Australia.
In April last year, she was arrested in a Hong Kong hotel room, along with a 15-year-old and 21-year-old Hutchinson Tran, after police found 114 packages of heroin stuffed into condoms and the fingers of rubber gloves.
Diaz and the 15-year-old were to swallow them before boarding the flight back to Sydney.
In their court case, the defence team argued they were young, naive and vulnerable to an Asian crime syndicate promising quick money and an all expenses paid trip to Hong Kong.
But the judge, Justice Peter Longley, said that was no excuse for such a serious crime, and sentenced Diaz to 10 years and eight months, Tran to 13 years, and the younger defendant to to nine years in prison.
Teresa Gambaro, parliamentary secretary for the Minister for Foreign Affairs, says it is a tragic case.
"These young people are in the prime of their life, and they will be spending it in jail," she said.
She says an international prisoner transfer agreement is still being finalised with Hong Kong.
For now though, lawyers for the drug smugglers can lodge an appeal.
"Under Hong Kong law, defendants have 28 days to appeal their sentence, so there is an appeals process that they can go through, and at this stage I'm not sure if they're going to take that appeal process," she said.
"That's entirely up to them and their legal team."
At the time of the arrest, Australian police had been involved in a joint investigation with Hong Kong police.
The AFP's drugs team, the New South Wales police South East Asian crime squad and Hong Kong's police narcotics bureau were working together in the exchange of information to investigate a drugs syndicate when the Australians were arrested.
Kay Danes is with the Foreign Prisoner Support Service. She says with the information they had, Australian police could and should have acted sooner to protect the three young Australians.
"I would have thought that, had it been possible, they could have allowed them to come back to Australia, under surveillance, and then investigated where they were actually going to make the delivery," she said, "and then arrest them, along with the other people that they were going to be making the delivery to."
She concedes that allowing the drug mules to swallow the condoms full of heroin, with the possibility that they could break, was risky.
"But 20 years in an Asian jail - it's still a gruesome outcome - they're still not guaranteed to survive a 20-year jail term," she said.
A spokesman for the Australian Federal Police said the agency did not have a direct role in the case and referred The World Today to the New South Wales police but no one there would comment.
There are another 17 Australians facing serious charges in Hong Kong.
Foreign Prisoners Support Service