Aussie police defend tip-off on Bali Nine

Aussie police defend tip-off on Bali Nine
Australian's Myuran Sukumaran (L) and Andrew Chan (R), the two ringleaders of the "Bali Nine" drug ring.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) have insisted they did not have "blood on our hands" and defended their role in tipping off Indonesia about an Australian drug smuggling ring - a controversial move which led to the execution last week of the two Australian ringleaders.

Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin yesterday broke his silence, saying he could not guarantee that executions of Australian citizens abroad would not happen again. He said co-operation with Indonesia in 2005 had been necessary to catch the smugglers even though it risked Australian citizens facing the death sentence.

"I can assure you if we had enough information to arrest the Bali Nine before they left Australia, we would've done just that," he said.

"I wish I could assure you it won't happen again, but I cannot. While Australians choose to travel overseas to foreign jurisdictions and participate in serious crimes especially drug trafficking and transnational crime, that possibility (the death penalty) still remains."

Asked whether he would apologise to the families of the executed Australians, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, he said: "No… We can't apologise for the role that we have to try and stop illicit drugs from coming to this community."

The federal police have been heavily criticised for years for tipping off Indonesia police about the Bali Nine heroin smugglers in 2005 even though the information risked subjecting Australian citizens to the death penalty. Australia does not have capital punishment.

Indonesia's execution of the Australians, along with six other drug prisoners, has triggered fierce international criticism.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott withdrew his ambassador from Jakarta in protest after making repeated efforts to persuade Indonesia to show mercy.

The executions sparked public anger in Australia and led to calls to tighten the police's international co-operation guidelines to ensure security agents do not expose Australians to the death penalty in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore which execute drug felons.

The AFP co-operated with Indonesian police under a confidential memorandum of understanding with Jakarta signed after the 2002 Bali bombings.

The AFP's own guidelines require officials to consider the possibility of the death penalty applying as a factor when handing over information to foreign agencies. The guidelines were tightened in 2009 to ensure police inform a federal minister about co-operation which could involve the death penalty.

Deputy Commissioner Leanne Close said the Federal Police had knocked back co-operation requests on 15 occasions in the past three years from countries "in our region". She did not say which countries' requests were rejected.

"In the last three years, we've had more than 250 requests in relation to matters that may involve the death penalty guidelines. Of those, we've not approved about 15," she said.

Australia and Indonesia also have a mutual assistance treaty, but this covers requests for information, not tip-offs such as in the Bali Nine case.

Mr Colvin said the decision to alert Jakarta was "not taken lightly", but the force did not have enough information about the smuggling ring to intervene before the nine Australians left for Bali.

"Public references to blood on our hands, to shopping the Bali Nine in exchange for some conspiracy of a better relationship, cartoons depicting the AFP as the firing squad or the Grim Reaper are ... misinformed and ill-guided," he said.

"We didn't know everybody involved, we didn't know all the plans, or even what the illicit commodity was likely to be."

An expert on human rights law, Associate Professor Adam McBeth, from Monash University, said the Australian police could have let the smugglers go and arrested them on their return to Australia or insisted Indonesia give an undertaking not to execute any of those caught.

"Australia has obligations not to expose people to the death penalty and that's exactly what they've done," he told ABC News.

"There should be a requirement that if there is to be any co-operation, any handing over of information to countries that have the death penalty, that the first is a requirement to get an undertaking that the death penalty will not be sought."

Commissioner Colvin denied a long-running claim that Australian police officers tipped off Indonesia only after they received a tip-off from the father of Scott Rush, one of the Bali Nine smugglers.

The father was concerned about the fate of his son, who is now serving a life sentence in Indonesia. "Not one bit of information Scott Rush's father provided made it to Indonesia," he said.

jonathanmpearlman@gmail.com


This article was first published on May 5, 2015.
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