Another Christmas Day in a hellhole

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 December, 2006, 12:00am

Holed up in the 'soul-sucking dump' of an Indonesian jail, a sobbing Schapelle Corby repeatedly asks her visiting sister, Mercedes: 'How much longer do I have to stay here?'

The standard refrain - 'Not much longer, Schapelle' - does nothing to betray the sad mixture of delusion and despair evident in both voices, the ghostwriter of a new book on Corby wrote in a recent magazine article.

The 29-year-old Australian will spend a third Christmas Day in the hellhole that is Bali's Kerobokan jail. Which means there are only 17 more to go if she sees out the full 20-year sentence.

It is a chilling prospect for the supposedly happy-go-lucky tourist whose holiday adventure turned bad when airport customs officers found 4.1kg of marijuana inside her boogie board bag.

Public opinion generally has limited compassion for foreigners caught fooling with drugs in hardline regimes. Sympathy is outweighed by the notion that they should have known better, allowing blind eyes to comfortably ignore the long-term consequences.

But not so for Corby who, more than two years after her conviction for smuggling drugs, continues to tug like no other at public heartstrings back home. Her new book, My Story, out last month, is already on Australian best-seller lists and continues to spark controversy.

Every Australian has seen those piercing blue eyes, so often filled with tears. Few issues prompt the opinion of so many, a majority of whom believe that the pretty Gold Coast beauty therapist has been the victim of a set-up.

Even the popular women's gossip magazines she used to devour for details on US actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie now peddle in the latest rumours surrounding Corby.

'It's unbelievable, these magazines simply make it up,' complained Corby after one magazine claimed she was having an affair with Andrew Chan, the 22-year-old ringleader of a group of drug-smuggling Australians dubbed the 'Bali Nine'.

'I've been a prostitute, I have jail lovers, I'm now a slut, a weirdo, all these horrible things printed about me and they are not true.'

Just as Corby is now more circumspect about what she reads in tabloid magazines, nothing is quite as it seems in a drugs case with more twists than a John Grisham thriller.

The only certainty seems to be the large bag of marijuana discovered in her boogie board bag on arrival at Denpasar Airport in October 2004. Corby has repeatedly insisted she has no idea how it got there, and the main defence at her trial last year centred on the theory that she had been the victim of a smuggling network operated by airport baggage handlers in Australia.

Her family believes the cannabis was placed in the bag at Brisbane Airport but not removed, as planned, by drug runners, during transit in Sydney.

Although several Sydney Airport baggage handlers were arrested by police last year in connection with cocaine smuggling, there has been no evidence to suggest a connection with the Corby cannabis.

The possible link also failed to impress the court in Bali, where drug offenders are often sentenced to death and judges loathe to acquit.

'As far as I can remember in a drugs case, I haven't yet set anyone free,' said the chief judge, Linton Sirait, during the trial.

A weak prosecution case that probably would not have made it to trial in other jurisdictions, and a poorly conducted defence, only served to strengthen the perception of a shambolic Indonesian legal system.

Among the host of people blamed for her plight is Vasu Rasiah, who headed her original legal team. Later sacked by Corby, he is described in the book as a 'money-hungry bully'.

Mr Vasu, clearly angered by the insult, reacted earlier this month by threatening to reveal the 'damaging truth' behind the case.

'If [Corby and her family] push us into a corner then we have no option but to reveal the truth and everything that took place,' he told an Australian television programme. 'We will. That would be very damaging.'

The television report also aired claims, denied by the Corby family, that she had met an Adelaide man en route to Brisbane Airport for the flight to Bali.

Questions have also been raised over the relationship between Corby's father, Mick, and his former next-door neighbour, Tony Lewis, who was convicted earlier this year of growing a commercial quantity of hydroponic marijuana.

The two men previously lived next door to each other in another town 500km away. Australian police say there is no evidence to suggest anyone else was linked to the Lewis drugs seizure.

Mr Vasu said the Corby family rejected an offer by the Australian Federal Police to DNA test the drugs found in her bag when it was explained the results could be sent to Indonesian police.

'We even got a couple of samples from the Bali police for this testing and then when we asked Mercedes to give an answer, she delayed for more than a week,' he said.

'We insisted it was good for the case if they could do a DNA test and prove it was not from Queensland. They [the Corbys] came and said, 'No, please don't put this angle in because it's detrimental to the case'.'

Mercedes dismissed the allegations, claiming that Mr Vasu had threatened the family before with exposure. 'He can't be trusted,' she said. 'He is obviously lashing out because he does not like what is in the book.'