Australia’s ‘Budgie Nine’ walk free in Malaysia after drunken Grand Prix antics

The men stripped down to swimwear emblazoned with the Malaysian flag but expressed remorse and walked free without charge

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 October, 2016, 12:45pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 October, 2016, 10:15pm

Nine Australian men who had provoked anger in Malaysia by donning skimpy swimwear bearing the Muslim-majority country’s national flag at a Formula 1 race were let off with no charges on Thursday.

Four days after their arrest, the nine racing fans were brought to a Malaysian court to face potential charges of public indecency and national insult. But after expressing remorse – and receiving a dressing-down by a Malaysian judge – they were released without charge.

The stunt by the nine men – who were celebrating countryman Daniel Ricciardo’s Malaysia Grand Prix win on Sunday – offended some Malaysians and sparked a debate back home over boorish behaviour abroad by Aussie sports fans.

What might be seen as a foolish prank or Aussie ‘blokey’ behaviour in Australia can be seen very differently in another country
Julie Bishop, Australian Foreign Minister

The detainees, all in their 20s, were dubbed the “Budgie Nine” by Australian media, a reference to their Speedo-style swimsuits, known colloquially in Australia as “budgie smugglers”. A budgie, short for budgerigar, is an Australian parakeet. The close-fitting swimwear is so named for leaving little to the imagination.

In scenes that quickly went viral, the men also quaffed beer from their shoes to emulate Ricciardo, who celebrated his win by chugging champagne from his shoe on the podium.

“Your conduct on October 2 was totally inappropriate by dressing down to your swimming trunks,” Judge Harith Sham Mohamad Yasin told them. “It hurt the feelings of all Malaysians to display the flag in such a manner.”

But he took into account their youth, expressions of remorse, and the fact they had already been held since Sunday.

“I hereby caution and discharge all of you,” he said.

While many in Malaysia laughed the episode off, some called for jail terms. Ricciardo, however, came to his fans’ defence in comments published on Thursday by Sydney’s Daily Telegraph before the court appearance, calling the stunt “pretty harmless”.

“In Australia it’s a bit different but I’m very sure they didn’t intend to offend anyone,” he said.

But Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Wednesday chastised the men.

“What might be seen as a foolish prank or Aussie ‘blokey’ behaviour in Australia can be seen very differently in another country,” she said. “You have to respect the laws of the country you are visiting.”

The defendants had arrived at a courthouse in the Malaysian town of Sepang on Thursday morning in handcuffs, dressed in suits and looking sombre. There had been speculation they could face fines for indecency, causing a public nuisance or disrespecting Malaysia’s flag, the last of which can also include a jail term of up to six months.

Foreign offenders accused of indecency in Malaysia are typically slapped with a fine before being deported. The “Budgie Nine” were not ordered deported.

Before the court proceedings, staff placed the offending red, white, blue and yellow swimwear on an evidence table in a courtroom.

Last year, four Western tourists were each fined 5,000 ringgit (US$1,200) for public obscenity and deported for taking nude photos atop Mount Kinabalu, a popular climbing peak in Malaysian Borneo.

The pix, which circulated online, incensed many Malaysians in part because the mountain is considered sacred to local tribes.

The photos were taken just days before a June 5 earthquake rocked the mountain, killing 18 people, prompting accusations that the nudists had angered mountain gods.