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Bali Nine: Bandits from Australia

Bali Nine” alleged drug traffickers set up for execution by Australian police
By Rick Kelly
31 October 2005
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Prosecution evidence put forward at trials of the “Bali Nine” currently underway in Bali, Indonesia, establishes that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) engaged in a calculated operation to set up the young Australians for execution by firing squad. The police provided Indonesian authorities with detailed information about the alleged drug smugglers’ activities, and encouraged their arrest in Indonesia, despite knowing that this would almost certainly lead to the subsequent imposition of the death penalty.

The AFP has faced mounting scrutiny over its role in the Bali Nine affair. The agency’s cooperation with the Indonesian police has directly contravened the spirit of the mutual assistance treaty enacted by Canberra and Jakarta in 1999, which was widely believed to prevent Australian authorities from facilitating the execution of its own citizens. Capital punishment is illegal within Australia, and under the 1988 Extradition Act, the attorney-general cannot authorise the extradition of an Australian national if the death penalty may be imposed.

The accused were all arrested on April 17, 2005. Four of the group (Renae Lawrence, Martin Stephens, Michael Czugaj, and Scott Rush) were caught at Bali’s Denpasar airport acting as couriers, or “mules”. A total of more than eight kilograms of heroin was found strapped to their bodies. Four others (Tach Duc Thanh Nguyen, Myuran Sukumaran, Si Yi Chen, and Matthew Norman) allegedly connected to the operation were arrested at a Kuta hotel. The alleged organiser, Andrew Chan, was arrested without drugs after boarding a plane bound for Sydney. The accused are aged between 18 and 29.

According to a senior Indonesian prosecutor, Australian police made informal contact with their Indonesian counterparts in late March, almost a month before the nine arrests. On April 8, Paul Hunniford, the AFP’s liaison officer in Bali wrote a three-page letter to the Indonesian police, headed, “Heroin couriers from Bali to Australia, currently in Bali”. Another note was sent on April 12. The letters provided an extraordinary level of detail of the alleged drug traffickers’ movements and plans. The AFP also provided the Indonesian authorities with the passport numbers and photographs of eight of the accused.

“They will be carrying body packs (with white powder) back to Australia, with packs on both legs and also with back supports,” one section of the initial letter read. “They have already been given the back supports. The packs will be strapped to their bodies. They will be given money to exchange for local currency to purchase oversized loose shirts and sandals.” The AFP officer even knew that the alleged couriers would avoid wearing clothes with any metal attachments so as to avoid tripping airport metal detectors, and that they had been advised to quit smoking two weeks prior to the operation in order not to appear anxious after disembarking from their plane in Australia.

Rather than waiting for the suspects to enter Australia where they could be arrested and tried by Australian authorities, the AFP encouraged their arrest in Indonesia. “If you suspect [Andrew] Chan and/or the couriers are carrying drugs at the time of their departure, please take whatever action you deem necessary,” Hunniford wrote to the Indonesian police. He also suggested that the Indonesians take surveillance photographs of the alleged drug smugglers to later assist the prosecution. The AFP officer subsequently observed the Australians’ arrest at Denpasar airport.

Even before the release of the correspondence between the Australian and Indonesian police, the AFP was facing legal action over its role in the Bali Nine affair. The families of two of the accused—Scott Rush and Renae Lawrence—have alleged “denial of procedural fairness”, on the grounds that the father of one of the alleged mules, 19 year-old Rush, tipped off the AFP as to his son’s activities on April 7, two days before he left Australia for Bali. The Australian police did nothing except pass the information on to the Indonesians.

The Howard government failed in its application before the Federal Court to have the families’ claim dismissed, and the hearing is due to begin on November 9. More details of the AFP’s collaboration with the Indonesian police may well emerge in the course of the case.

The families’ application was spurred by their outrage over the role of Australian authorities in the prosecution of their children. Bob Lawrence, father of Renae, expressed his anger against AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty on October 8: “As far as I’m concerned and excuse the expression, he is an [expletive deleted].... They should have been either arrested at the airport here or followed to get the big guys. I don’t know how [the Australian police] sleep at night ... even if [the Bali Nine] were guilty of doing it willingly, it still doesn’t deserve the death penalty.”

The AFP’s involvement in the Bali Nine case raises fundamental questions about the role of Australian authorities in aiding death penalty prosecutions in South-East Asia. Official AFP policy, which has been endorsed by the Howard government, completely ignores the issue of capital punishment with regard to international police collaboration. As the Australian agency explained in a statement: “Under the formal agreements and guidelines in place, the AFP can provide assistance to foreign countries on a police to police basis where no charges have been laid, regardless of whether the foreign country may investigate offences that attract the death penalty.”

This policy exploits what amounts to an extraordinary loophole in the mutual assistance treaty between Australia and Indonesia, which only blocks cooperation between authorities at the point where charges are laid relating to crimes that could involve the death penalty. As Australian Law Council president John North explained: “In Australia, both arrest and charge are close to simultaneous, whereas the practice of Indonesian authorities is not to charge until long after arrest and just prior to trial.” This juridical difference allowed the AFP to provide assistance to the Indonesian police and prosecution for six months after the Bali Nine’s arrest.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock’s formal withdrawal of Australian cooperation following the laying of charges against the nine will make no difference to the Indonesian prosecution’s case. “No problem,” Bali drug squad chief Colonel Bambang Sugiarto assured the media. “[AFP] statements are not important according to the law.”

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