Pic: supplied South African Monica Meere was arrested by customs in Thailand last week, with 7kgs of cocaine in her luggage.

Johannesburg - Magda Venter is worried about her nieces. Just six years ago they lost their father; now their mother is locked up in a Thai jail, facing years behind bars for allegedly smuggling R8 million worth of cocaine into the southeast Asian country.

Monica Meere, from Vanderbijlpark, was arrested on Thursday when she landed at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and customs discovered 7kg of cocaine in her luggage. The drugs were inside three unopened boxes of chocolate as well as two separate packages inside her luggage.

Venter’s brother, Bertus, was Meere’s partner and the couple had two daughters, aged 14 and 12.

In 2008, Bertus committed suicide.

“I started crying and thinking about the kids,” said Venter, shortly after she heard the news of Meere’s arrest.

“They’ve been through so much already; they lost their father and now they might not see their mother for I don’t know how long.”

Venter has been unable to see her nieces as she lives in Ermelo but has been in contact with them and they have told her they are doing fine.

She said that while Meere’s fiancée, Paul van Nieuwenhuizen, is a “very nice guy”, she is still worried about the girls’ welfare, with no immediate family around.

Efforts to reach Van Nieuwenhuizen for comment since Sunday have proved unsuccessful.

“Honestly, I don’t know if she’s guilty or not. I can’t say that she’s innocent; she’s used drugs before,” Venter said.

She said she was unsure when Meere had stopped using heroin, but that it was “a long time ago”.

Meere had also travelled to Thailand in mid-February and had told Venter that she was there to do charity work. Venter was unaware she had returned to the country last week.

Meere reportedly denied any knowledge of the drugs.

“She claimed the chocolate boxes that contained the drugs belonged to her friend who asked her to give the items to a fellow South African in Thailand,” the Bangkok Post reported.

On Monday, the Department of International Cooperation and Relations (Dirco) sent officials from the South African embassy in Thailand to verify Meere’s citizenship.

However, Dirco spokesman Nelson Kgwete said prison officials informed them it was a public holiday and told them to return today.

Kgwete said that while Dirco would not get involved with another country’s legal process, they would monitor Meere’s case.

“We will be there to see that it is a fair process that she goes through.”

Meere could face a stiff sentence, based on the similar case of another South African drug mule, Nolubabalo Nobanda, who was arrested at the same airport in Thailand in 2011 with cocaine hidden in her dreadlocks.

In June 2012, Nobanda was sentenced to 30 years in jail after she had smuggled about a fifth of the amount of cocaine that Meere was caught with – but her sentence was halved that same year, for her co-operation with authorities.

The Star