Bali Nine leaders wanted to strike it rich

Bali Nine leaders wanted to strike it rich
Australian drug smuggler Myuran Sukumaran.

In Sydney, long before they found themselves together on death row in Indonesia in a case that has captivated Australia, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan - the masterminds of a drug smuggling ring - attended the same high school in western Sydney.

They were just four years apart at Homebush Boys High School, but they did not cross paths and had no inkling that they would one day be facing the same bleak fate.

It was only several years after school, as both were drifting into crime, that the pair met at a friend's place in 2002.

Three years later, the two masterminded a plot to bring more than 8kg of heroin with a street value of A$4 million (S$4.25 million) into Australia from Bali.

The plot involved themselves and seven young couriers, with the drugs strapped to some of their bodies.

The Bali Nine, as they became known, were nabbed in two groups at Denpasar airport and in a hotel in Bali on April 17, 2005.

The couriers were as young as 18 and were to be paid as little as A$5,000 each.

During sentencing in February 2006, Sukumaran and Chan were given the death penalties because they were found to have organised the operation and were accused of not showing remorse.

Chan was known as the "godfather" of the ring by Indonesian police, and Sukumaran as the "enforcer".

The seven couriers are now in jail in Indonesia, facing sentences of between 20 years and life imprisonment.

Chan, now 31, was living at home and working at a large catering company where he met three of the couriers whom he recruited with offers of free trips to Bali.

His parents are Cantonese-speaking migrants from China who opened several Chinese restaurants in Sydney.

Chan later admitted that he had dabbled with drugs as a teenager.

He was the "black sheep" of the family, he said, and believed he "wasn't really going anywhere in life".

"I don't think I was achieving too much, even though I had a stable job and all," he told SBS Television in 2010.

Sukumaran, now 34, had dropped out of university and was working in a mailroom in Sydney.

He was determined to strike it rich quickly, no matter how.

Born in London to parents of Sri Lankan origins, Sukumaran moved to Sydney as a young boy.

He turned to selling drugs after a university friend introduced him to a criminal world which offered the glitzy promise of fast cars, nightclubs and instant rewards.

Sukumaran had never been arrested and was reportedly not known to Australian police before he was nabbed in Bali.

The two teamed up to oversee an operation to hire a group of drug mules and ferry heroin into Australia. Chan had apparently worked as a courier previously.

The heroin reportedly came into Bali from Thailand.

Sukumaran and Chan have never revealed the identities of those they were working for, possibly out of fear for their families or because they do not know.

Chan recruited couriers Matthew Norman, now 28, Si Yi Chen, 29, Martin Stephens, 39, and Renae Lawrence, 37.

Lawrence later admitted she had gone to Bali on previous drug runs for Chan. Norman was the youngest of the gang, aged 18 at the time.

The smuggling operation also involved three men from Brisbane in Queensland.

Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen, now 31, a Vietnamese Australian, has never spoken publicly, but appears to have known the ringleaders.

He met window cleaner Matthew Czugaj and Scott Rush, who had drug problems but was planning to join the Australian military, during a night out in Brisbane.

He recruited them as couriers.

Some of the couriers said later that Chan and Sukumaran threatened to hurt their families if they did not cooperate, though the duo denied the claim.

Rush told a court in Denpasar during his trial in 2005: "He threatened us and our families, he said he knew everything about us. He even said he was carrying a gun. He said he could kill us right now."

Chan denied the claim during his trial. Some of the judges also dismissed the claim.

Lawrence had also told the court she smuggled the drugs after being threatened.

The 2006 death sentences for Chan and Sukumaran, delivered by a district court in Denpasar, found the pair had organised money, plane tickets and hotels for the couriers.

After the verdicts, a long series of appeals began. Over time, the pair admitted to what they had done and they expressed remorse and begged for forgiveness during a request in 2010 for judicial review.

The duo now face execution by firing squad in a case that threatens to damage the delicate ties between Canberra and Jakarta, and stirred deep anger in Australia.

Travellers are already starting to look elsewhere for a cheap holiday as the "boycott Bali" social media campaign gains momentum, Australian media have reported. Hundreds of thousands of Australians visit Bali every year.

Despite an Indonesian backlash against the push - calling it "arrogant" and "racist", online travel site cheapflights.com.au has already noted a sharp decline in inquiries about Bali holidays, News.com.au reported.

But as the protest grows, a Melbourne mother who lost her teenage daughter to a heroin overdose said she hopes Chan and Sukumaran will be executed, it reported.

"These are criminals who have been glorified as heroes," said Ms Beverley Neal.

"Who knows how many other lives would have been lost if they had not been caught in Bali."

Ms Neal said she still grieves every day for her daughter Jennifer, who was just 17 when she died of a heroin overdose.

She said, in her view, the parents of Chan and Sukumaran were very fortunate.

"They get to hold their sons, talk to them and say goodbye," said Ms Neal.

"I never got to do that."


This article was first published on February 22, 2015.
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