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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Two cleared, two convicted in Bolivian drug smuggling case

A young woman from the southern Norwegian coastal town of Lillesand was acquitted this week in a long-running case involving several Norwegians charged with smuggling drugs out of Bolivia to Norway. 

Christina Øygarden, now age 22, claimed she was tricked into traveling to Bolivia in 2008, and had no idea that cocaine had been stuffed into their suitcases when she and two girlfriends were on their way home to Norway again. The cocaine was found by airport police in Bolivia and all three were immediately arrested.

One of the three now-former girlfriends remains imprisoned in Bolivia, Madelaine Rodriguez, while the third, Stina Brendemo Hagen, escaped her 10-year jail term in Bolivia and managed to travel home to Norway under controversial circumstances. Brendemo Hagen testified in the case against Øygarden, who had escaped Bolivia before she was convicted, and now faces charges herself in Norway.

Rodriguez, age 25, also testified via a video link from her prison in Bolivia. Newspaper VG has reported that she now admits she tried to smuggle the drugs to Norway. She earlier has professed innocence to protect the man allegedly behind the smuggling operation who also has been convicted in Bolivia, but VG reported Rodriguez now claims both she and the two others knew they were carrying cocaine and that they would be paid up to NOK 30,000 each for their alleged courier work.

The appeals court in Oslo nonetheless acquitted Øygarden based on other testimony. Two others connected to the case were found guilty in the smuggling case. Their sentences were pending.

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