The most costly of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind. Henry Louis Mencken, 1880 – 1956, American journalist, essayist, magazine editor and satirist.
Sharon Armstrong is a middle aged Maori woman who is currently residing in an Argentinian jail. She is charged with exporting drugs out of the country.
Her’s is a strange but ever more common story. She says she’s been without a partner for “many years, and that’s a choice” – deciding to put her energies into her whanau (Maori word for family). She even moved to Australia to be closer to them.
Unbeknownst to her, one of her family members apparently registered her with an online dating service. Through this service she met the man who was to prove to be her downfall.
Sharon Armstrong’s original reaction was that the website was “creepy”, but when an attractive man contacted her, she decided to give online dating a go. As she says “[He] looked really nice, really friendly, warm, all of those things. He had a nice profile.” As the man lived near her they met at her house the following weekend.
The story then played out as follows:
- The man claimed he had a job interview in London and would keep in touch via email
- In an email he said he had been admitted to a private hospital in London – Ms Armstrong sent him money – Why?
- The man asked Ms Armstrong to go to Argentina to complete some business on his behalf and then meet him in London, she agreed – Again why?
- The night before Ms Armstrong was due to leave for London, she was rung by another person who advised her the documents would already be packaged in a suitcase, and she was expected to take the lot as it was – Would you do so?
- When she got back to her hotel she opened the case and couldn’t see ‘the documents’.
- Ms Armstrong then emailed the woman, who had handed her the case, asking her why the documents were hidden. The woman told her that there were “bad people here in Argentina, this is a very important contract”, and that it was hidden for her own safety. Would you have accepted that explanation?
- The woman also advised Ms Armstrong that should she be stopped by customs she should tell them about the documents and that they were welcome to take a look. Why didn’t warning bells ring? Why would the woman expect that Armstrong might be stopped by customs?
- And the rest of the story is that she was stopped by customs; the bag was searched; the drugs were found and she now awaits trial.
This woman was not a young first time traveler who must surely be aware of the dangers of taking anything through customs for anybody else. Why would she put herself in such danger? What did she reply when asked if she had packed the suitcase herself?
Her case has been taken up by a prominent Argentina Law firm. “What I find interesting about her case is she seems to be innocent,” says Mr Osler (presumably a partner in the firm). “Every single person I talk to believes her. Beyond belief however, it will be very hard to prove.”
The questions raised are many:
- The former Wellington civil servant said she was tricked into believing she was taking a top secret business contract to a man in London that she had been dating online for six months. Are we to believe Armstrong – who is a former parole officer – really thought she was carrying a ‘secret contract’ in her suitcase?
- Why would she send money to a comparative stranger?
- Why would she agree to change her travel plans to take in Argentina on her way to London? This is not the usual route Wellington to London.
- Her family members are firmly behind her – will this help her case in a foreign land?
We will have to wait for the outcome of the trial for these and other questions to be satisfactorily answered.