Bali Nine drug smuggler says he was hooked by 'easy money'

Bali Nine drug smuggler says he was hooked by 'easy money'
In this file photograph taken on February 14, 2006, Australian's Andrew Chan (R) and Myuran Sukumaran (2nd Left), the ringleaders of the "Bali Nine" drug ring, are escorted by police after their verdict from a court in Denpasar, on Bali island.

Myuran Sukumaran, like his criminal partner Andrew Chan, was lured by the prospect of an "easy pay cheque" into pushing drugs.

The son of Sri Lankan parents who moved to London and then Sydney, Sukumaran, now 34, had dropped out of university and was working in a mail room when he drifted into crime.

He began selling drugs after a university friend invited him to join a gang and tempted him with the prospect of a world of fast cars and nightclubs.

"It's just the lifestyle… You want to be like those people, get the girls like those people, and I was hoping to buy a car, hoping to start a business," he told Australian television news channel SBS News in 2010.

"You think, how do you do this on a mail-room salary?"

As he began to make underworld connections as part of his bid for fast cash, Sukumaran met Chan at a mutual friend's place and they decided to join forces.

They recruited seven mules from Sydney and Brisbane and paid them as little as A$5,000 each to ferry a total of 8.3kg of heroin worth about A$4 million into Australia.

In Bali, Sukumaran and Chan strapped bags of heroin to the couriers' bodies, apparently sprinkling the plastic packages with pepper to try to foil sniffer dogs.

The drugs were believed to have been brought in from Thailand by a 22-year-old Thai smuggler and prostitute reportedly named Cherry Likit Bannakorn, who later escaped home.

Sukumaran and Chan, now 31, have reportedly never revealed the source of the drugs.

But the Australian Federal Police were aware of the plot and had kept surveillance on all the members of Bali Nine, as the group became known. Police knew the names of all the members, except for Sukumaran's.

In April 2005, when the seven smugglers and their two overseers were in Bali, Australian police alerted their Indonesian counterparts and told them to "take whatever action you deem necessary".

Sukumaran was arrested at a Bali hotel with three of the couriers and 300g of heroin. He initially stayed quiet and even claimed to have amnesia.

A court in Denpasar, Bali's capital, found him guilty, saying he had been "obstructive" during the trial process and never expressed any sense of guilt.

"The defendant showed no remorse over his actions," said Judge Gusti Lanang Dauh. "When the prosecution requested the death penalty, the defendant showed no reaction whatsoever."

Sukumaran recently revealed that he had wanted to offer information about the drug suppliers in return for a lesser sentence, but was advised by his lawyers not to.

He has claimed that there were a number of people in Sydney overseeing the operation, but believed that his family would be harmed if he named them.

"We tried with the police to get some kind of co-operation thing, but there weren't really like… those were the only cards that we had to play," he told Australian TV network Channel Seven.

"We tried to ask them for some leniency, but they wouldn't. And then, the lawyers advised us not to go that way."

Chan reportedly does not know the name of the suppliers, but was more involved with the day-to-day operations, including arranging flights, phones and clothes for the couriers.

As Chan turned to religion in recent years, Sukumaran turned to art.

He was tutored by prominent Australian artist Ben Quilty and began running workshops for fellow prisoners. In February, he was awarded a fine art degree from Curtin University.

Two years ago, Sukumaran told The Age newspaper that art had helped him "to find out who I am, where I fit in the world, how I can contribute to the world".

But Melbourne artist Matthew Sleeth, who visited him regularly, said art was "a tool to stay sane during what can only be described as torture".


This article was first published on April 28, 2015.
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