Schapelle running out of time to prove her innocence

Good article on post-Schapelle guilty verdict in the Age today. The people of Australia were quite shocked with the verdict – over 90% of Australians think she is innocent.

Time is running out for the one unlikely event that could save Schapelle Corby, writes Miranda Devine.

THERE is no point people asserting Schapelle Corby’s innocence because they “feel it in my heart” or “looked into her eyes”. Such silliness just adds to the near-mystical hysteria which plagues the case of the 27-year-old Gold Coast student beautician convicted last week of smuggling 4.1 kilograms of marijuana into Bali. It is also unnecessary. There are plenty of rational facts which point to Corby’s likely innocence.

For one thing, blood and urine tests conducted on Corby after her arrest were negative, say her lawyers, which is significant considering marijuana can be detected for at least three months after use.

And, of course, recent courtroom allegations about drug smuggling by corrupt baggage handlers at Sydney Airport have bolstered Corby’s claim that someone placed the marijuana in her boogie board bag between Brisbane Airport, where she checked in her luggage (via Sydney), and Bali’s Denpasar airport, where she picked it up 12 hours later.

Adding further credence to her claim was the stunning coincidence that a suitcase full of cocaine was allegedly being smuggled from a South American flight by baggage handlers on October 8, the day Corby flew to Bali on Qantas’s Australian Airlines flight AO7829.

That was just one of the “seven sets of bad luck in one day”, in the cynical assessment of Corby’s financial supporter, the Gold Coast mobile phone businessman Ron Bakir.

Last week in his rented villa in Seminyak, a few kilometres from Corby’s jail, Bakir outlined the defence team’s grievances against Australian authorities, including Qantas. They “failed to secure the CCTV footage” of Corby checking in her luggage in Brisbane, which might have shown it without the bulge of the pillow-sized bag of hydroponic marijuana.

“They failed to secure the weight of the bag [in Brisbane and Bali] or the scan of the bags. They failed to pick up on the 4.1 kilograms of marijuana in her bag because the sniffer dogs were off duty that day.” He claims a machine supposed to scan international luggage was switched off “to save money”.

Bakir, 28, and his friend, Gold Coast lawyer Robin Tampoe, say Qantas refused to divulge who were the baggage handlers on duty on October 8. Tampoe, 38, claims he was told by Qantas that Corby’s lawyers would have to subpoena the roster, which was impossible from Indonesia.

Tampoe, whose role was to gather evidence in Australia to help the Indonesian lawyers, said the Australian Federal Police refused a request to send an officer to testify about the historic problem at Australian airports of corrupt baggage handlers smuggling drugs.

What’s more, this week Labor’s homeland security spokesman, Robert McClelland, questioned why a customs report into drug smuggling at Australian airports was kept from Corby’s lawyers. The report, available since September, revealed that baggage handlers diverted bags containing drugs from international flights to domestic baggage carousels. “It indicates systematic criminality that is a material fact that at the very least should have been disclosed to her defence,” McClelland said.

Then there is the odd case of Steve and Dee, the Melbourne couple who told Channel Nine’s Ross Coulthart they had arrived at their Bali hotel in 1997 to find a large block of compressed marijuana in their luggage. When they rang the Australian consulate for help, they were told to flush the drugs down the toilet or “you’ll be eating nasi goreng for the rest of your life in jail”.

As of this week, no one from the Australian Federal Police has interviewed the couple. Bakir cannot understand why Australian authorities didn’t inform Corby’s defence team of the case.

There is little point maligning the Bali court or its chief judge, Linton Sirait, who cannot be faulted on his patience or the transparency of his trial. Nor is there any sense in crazed Corby supporters sending an envelope containing a “biological agent” to the Indonesian embassy in Canberra yesterday as reprisal.

The fact is Corby’s defence team never gave the Bali court a chance to acquit her because it presented no conclusive evidence to counter the marijuana found in her boogie board bag. But it’s not fair to blame members of her defence team because, they explain, they were obstructed at every turn by Australian authorities. “We could only fire the arrows we had,” says Bakir.

In the aftermath of Corby’s conviction and 20-year sentence, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, and even the Prime Minister expressed astonishment that Corby’s defence team – specifically Tampoe – had not accepted the offer of two eminent Perth QCs, Mark Trowell and Tom Percy, to help.

Tampoe says he never received the calls said to have been made by Trowell or Ruddock’s chief of staff, Steve Ingram, offering the silks’ services. Tampoe said last week that he could find only one record of any contact with his Hoolihan’s law firm. That was a voicemail message left on the mobile phone of his articled clerk, Matthew Gibson, which Gibson found on March 30, when he returned from Bali two days after the defence case had closed. “Of course we would have said yes,” said Tampoe.

But even if Tampoe’s office did fail to respond to messages left, it is a mystery why Ruddock and the QCs found it so hard to contact him directly. He and Bakir have always been easily contactable by mobile phone. Journalists ring them every day. Similarly, the Corby family in Tugun is listed in the phone book and an offer of help could have been made to them, but wasn’t.

In any case, none of the recriminations do Corby any good, as she faces spending the rest of her child-bearing years in jail.

She now has eight days left to come up with fresh evidence to persuade the Indonesian High Court to reopen her case. “If I can find new evidence I will request the High Court judge instruct the District Court of Denpasar to reopen the case just to hear the new evidence,” her Indonesian lawyer, Erwin Siregar, said on Friday after lodging notice to appeal.

But he says the only new evidence the High Court would accept is “the name of the person who put the marijuana in Schapelle’s boogie board bag”.

If someone did put the marijuana in Corby’s boogie board bag, his conscience must surely be troubling him. An amnesty offered by the Australian Government might persuade that person to own up and provide the evidence required to exonerate Corby. It’s worth a try.

— Miranda Devine
From the Sydney Morning Herald