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Lorraine Cohen and Aaron Cohen
On 9 February 1985,Lorraine Cohen aged 42, and her son, Aaron aged 18, was arrested for the possession of heroin by Malaysian authorities as they tried to board a plane at Penang International Airport. This was to become an infamous international drug case involving two New Zealanders.
At the age of 17 Lorraine found herself pregnant and married the father of her child. She had already started using drugs at an early age and eventually turned to prostitution to afford her habit. The marriage ended and she moved to Sydney, Australia. Once there, she met and married a musician, Danny Cohen. Aaron was born and Lorraine was still struggling with her addiction to heroin. The family moved back for a short period to New Zealand but soon returned to Australia. At this time Lorraine separated from her second husband and returned to a life of prostitution and drugs.

In 1984, after an unexpected windfall through a ten thousand dollar inheritance from her mother, Lorraine and her son, Aaron, flew to Penang, Malaysia. They were on a mission to buy cheap heroin to support their growing drug habit.

Upon their departure from Penang International Airport, Lorraine and Aaron were stopped and the subsequent search by Malaysian authorities turned up 140grams of heroin hidden in Lorraine Cohen’s underwear. Aaron was found in possession of 34grams of heroin hidden also in his underwear.
Under Malaysian law, drug traffickers who obtain drugs for supply, which is distinguished by having over 15grams in their possession, are automatically given the death sentence. Both of the Cohen’s were seen as drug traffickers.

On 1 September 1987, Lorraine Cohen was sentenced to death. Aaron was sentenced to life imprisonment and six lashes with a rotan cane. Aaron was only spared the death penalty because of his age. Lorraine and Aaron appealed their sentences and on 7 August 1989, Lorraine’s conviction was commuted to life imprisonment. Appeal judges accepted the evidence that Lorraine Cohen was a regular heavy user of heroin and would have only been supporting her own habit with the drugs she was found carrying. Aaron’s appeal was rejected and in December 1991, he received his six lashes with a cane.

The pair were imprisoned at Penang Prison and separated into the men and women’s section. Media reports of their time there stated that it was hard going and Lorraine was hospitalized for breast cancer. She regained her health and along with her Malaysian lawyer, Karpal Singh, set about obtaining a pardon for her and Aaron. Two applications for a pardon failed but the third time, it succeeded.

Lorraine and Aaron Cohn were released in 1996, from Penang Prison after eleven and a half years of incarceration. They were returned to New Zealand. Whilst in prison, both had been able to give up their heroin habit.


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The infamous intemational drug case involving two New Zealanders.

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