Monday, November 12, 2007

When Schapelle Corby was arrested in Denpassar, Bali with 4.2Kg of marijuana in her luggage, she immediately claimed she was innocent.

Schapelle knew nothing about international drug trafficking or about trends of drug movements around Australia and it was natural for her and the Australian public to assume that Australian baggage handlers were probably involved.

On 12th of May 2005, Mick Keelty, the Commissioner for the Australian Federal Police was reported to have said that the Corby defence was "flimsy". Tanya Nolan on ABC local radio in Canberra said that Keelty was criticized by the Law Council for commenting on Schapelle’s on-going case when he said:

There is very little intelligence to suggest that baggage handlers are using innocent people to traffic heroin or other drugs between states.

Was Keelty lying? I understood why Schapelle’s supporters assumed that he was. After all, they believed that the true culprits had to be Australian baggage handlers because of 'War on drugs' programing - "All drugs are the same" when mixed with tales of criminal baggage handlers transporting drugs. However, it was foolish of the Indonesian lawyers to attach themselves to one particular scenario without having done some research and investigation first.

For Schapelle's lawyers it was more than just incompetence to assume that Keelty was lying because if he was right and Australian baggage handlers had nothing to do with the marijuana then the search for guilty culprits in Australia by the Indonesian lawyers would bear no fruit.

Failure to find such baggage handlers would result in Schapelle's automatic conviction because by only presenting the possibility of Australian baggage handler involvement they would not counteract the physical presence of the drugs found in Schapelle’s possession. If Keelty was telling the truth, then he was giving warning that the current strategy was doomed to fail.

Had Keelty made unfounded slurs against Schapelle's character or offered an opinion on whether he believed her to be guilty or innocent the criticisms put forward by the Law Council would have been just. However, he was criticising her Indonesian lawyers and their strategy which was based, not on careful research but on the opinion of a naive young beauty therapist and where she thought the drugs came from. Did the Law Council believe Keelty was lying? Or, were they giving Schapelle's Indonesian lawyers their tacit approval to lie?

I know Schapelle Corby is innocent because she was the only person wanting an investigation of this case but I also know that Australian baggage handlers do not move marijuana around our nation.

Airports are exits and entry points to this country and the Australian Federal Police are stationed at each one. While the general public may associate airports with wet handkerchiefs, tired travellers and holiday excitement the criminal world does not share this view. They see airports as police stations unique to the police in that the criminals come to them. Every nod is a signal, every bag is a bomb, and everyone is scrutinised by cameras, metal detectors, and all other devices known to man. Those who work there are paid to be suspicious even when there’s nothing to be suspicious about.

Criminal groups within this country use our airports to bring in narcotics every day. However, these drugs are all imported and go through our airports because there is no other way – they have to be at an airport to get into the country. No one voluntarily takes illegal goods anywhere near an airport unless they absolutely have to. Marijuana is produced in Australia and like stolen refrigerators, microwaves, clothing and cigarettes they are exclusively moved by road to wherever they need to go.

In the ABC coverage reported by Tanya Nolan and cited above she said:

The row was sparked by the discovery of a $30 million cocaine importing syndicate. As one of the 12 men charged in connection with the ring applied for bail in a Sydney court yesterday, the Australian Federal Police tendered an explosive brief.

It alleged that corrupt baggage handlers at Sydney's international airport were paid $300,000 to help smuggle a briefcase containing nearly 10 kilograms of cocaine.

The date of the alleged incident was October the 8th last year – the same day Schapelle Corby's infamous boogie board bag was checked through the same airport on the way to Bali.

Ms Corby's lawyers say the coincidence props up a key element of their defence that baggage handlers planted the 4.1 kilograms of marijuana in her bag.

Schapelle’s lawyers were wrong. Just because Sydney baggage handlers facilitated the importation of cocaine through the Sydney baggage area from the cargo hold of an inbound Argentinean flight did not mean that Brisbane baggage handlers placed marijuana in Schapelle Corby’s luggage to go to Sydney.

Ten Kilograms of cocaine takes up half the space of four Kilograms of marijuana and the baggage handlers involved with the cocaine were paid $300,000 for their part. Since the marijuana was only worth $40,000 in total there was no profit left to pay baggage handlers for the job.

In the end it all comes down to money. When criminal organisations import drugs into our country, they buy them relatively cheaply from third world producers and the percentage being seized by the police or customs is figured into their profit plans as a cost of doing business.

It is not cheap to grow marijuana in Australia. While two marijuana plants can be grown with the minimum of security, ventilation, lighting and other financial overheads, growing additional plants does not incur costs that are additional. Instead, costing will multiply with the different security, irrigation, ventilation or lighting set-ups that the size of the crop will demand. To grow 4.2Kg of marijuana flowers, between 30-40 plants will be required and regardless of whether the marijuana is soil grown or hydroponically grown, the costs of doing this will come into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Therefore, Australian marijuana growers will not even consider any plan that includes a percentage loss due to seizure as part of their profits. What’s more, at the time when transport is considered, the growers have done all the work and incurred all the costs and it is they who set the price. Any profit to be made by distributors depends on how many people are involved in the distribution network. Involving baggage handlers and airport staff becomes ludicrous and impractical when a guy in a car with a tank of petrol can achieve the same results.

In contrast, imported cocaine, heroin and hashish (the resin form of cannabis) are produced by third world farmers for a pittance and the profit margins are astronomical by the time the drugs reach our streets. Since these drugs must come through our airports, our harbours or our marinas, any inside help from people such as baggage handlers to avoid detection allows the profit to be made in the first place and to those importing the drugs it is therefore worth the investment.

Marijuana has been grown in Australia since the 1970s and perhaps the “intelligence” Mr Keelty referred to was that no marijuana has been seized in Australian airfreight in commercial quantities for over 30 years.

Finally, marijuana is one of the most popular recreational drugs in Australia and tons of it are consumed every year in this country. It is smelly, it is bulky, and both risky and costly to produce. However, on a volume to volume ratio it's not that much more valuable than cigarettes or tobacco - certainly not valuable enough to pay off unnecessary baggage handlers.

In summary, Schapelle’s lawyers chose a defence that had no basis in reality with a certainty that was never warranted. A meagre investigation would have told them that Australians consume tons of marijuana each year and yet no marijuana seizures had been recorded at Australian airports. In spite of this they tied Schapelle’s life – the verdict of guilt or innocence – to the impossible task of finding a guilty baggage handler.

It stopped anyone from focusing on what occurred in Denpassar. It saved the Indonesian lawyers from having to accuse Indonesians. Most importantly, by insisting that Australian baggage handlers were responsible, Schapelle's lawyers minimised the need to have the incriminating evidence, the marijuana itself, tested for country of origin.