Bali Nine: Australian Federal Police unapologetic for tip-off that led to Chan and Sukumaran executions.

By political reporters Jane Norman and Anna Henderson

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin says it is possible future investigations could result in an Australian facing the death penalty overseas, even though the AFP’s guidelines have been strengthened since the arrest of the Bali Nine drug smugglers.

Commissioner Colvin and Deputy Commissioner Michael Phelan held an hour-long press conference to explain the agency’s role in the arrests by Indonesian authorities in 2005.

Commissioner Colvin defended the AFP’s decision to inform Indonesian authorities about the drug syndicate, saying the AFP did not have enough evidence to arrest the Australians before they left for Indonesia.

“At the time we were working with a very incomplete picture. We didn’t know everybody involved, we didn’t know all the plans, or even what the illicit commodity was likely to be,” Commissioner Colvin said.

He said it was “operationally appropriate” for the AFP to then cooperate with, and seek help from Indonesia.

Rush family not first to inform police of syndicate: Colvin

It has been widely reported that the family of Bali Nine smuggler, Scott Rush, first informed the AFP about the syndicate but Commissioner Colvin today rejected that, saying police had been broadly aware of the group.

“I want to take the pressure off Scott Rush’s father. A lot of the way it’s been reported is that his tip-off led to this. It didn’t. I feel for Mr Rush that it’s been portrayed that way,” he said.

“The AFP was already aware of, and had commenced investigating, what we believed was a syndicate that was actively recruiting couriers to import narcotics to Australia at the time of Mr Rush’s contact with the AFP.”


Commissioner Colvin said the information provided by Rush’s family made no difference to the investigation and he also rejected suggestions that the AFP gave an assurance that Rush would be prevented from leaving Australia.

On the question of why the AFP did not arrest the group when they returned to Australia, Commissioner Colvin said the AFP could not dictate how Indonesian authorities should deal with the group once they had enough evidence to arrest them.

“This is the harsh reality for Australians who go overseas and become involved in serious crimes,” he said.

But barrister Bob Myers, the family friend who in April 2005 asked the AFP to stop Scott Rush from travelling to Indonesia, dismissed suggestions the AFP was an unwilling accomplice to the Indonesian case against the Bali Nine.

“They were pulling the strings. Don’t let them say that it was out of their hands. They dictated the plot,” Mr Myers told 7.30.

He maintains the AFP should have stopped the Bali Nine from travelling to Indonesia, or at least not told Indonesia of the plot and arrested the couriers when they returned to Australia.

But Deputy Commissioner Phelan defended the move, saying the AFP needed more information about the wider syndicate.

“To let them come back through to Australia, we may have grabbed a couple of mules, but we would not have been able to have any evidence in relation to the wider syndicate,” he said.


But Mr Myers said the letters that the AFP provided to Indonesian authorities outlining the plot had sufficient detail.

“I have seen the letters. It names the drug from Indonesia to Australia and … eight of the [Bali] nine were identified,” he said.

“I say that they had sufficient evidence to arrest them, but so what if they didn’t?” he said.

Commissioner Colvin said while he wished he could guarantee that the Bali Nine scenario would never happen again, that was not possible.

“I’d love to give you a guarantee that that won’t happen,” he said.

“But no two scenarios are same. When we commence an investigation we cannot always predict where that investigation may lead.”

Decision to hand over intelligence ‘agonising’

Deputy Commissioner Phelan, who approved the transfer of information to Indonesian authorities, said it was a difficult decision, but he acted in the interests of victims of the drug trade.

“I’ve agonised over it for 10 years now, and every time I look back I still think it’s a difficult decision,” he said.

“But given what I knew at that particular time, and what our officers knew, I would take a lot of convincing to make a different decision.

“I’ve seen the misery that drugs causes to tens of thousands of families in this country.”


Deputy Commissioner Phelan said it did play on his mind that those who were arrested could face the firing squad.

“Yes, I knew full well that by handing over the information and requesting surveillance and requesting evidence gathered, if they found them in possession of drugs they would take action and expose them to the death penalty,” he said.

“I knew that, I went in with an open mind.”

Colvin ‘completely satisfied’ with amended AFP guidelines

Commissioner Colvin said the guidelines relating to how the AFP deals with countries that have the death penalty have been strengthened considerably since 2005 and he was “completely satisfied” with them.

In the past three years, the AFP has received more than 250 requests for information relating to matters that could involve the death penalty.

Of those, only 15 have been rejected.

Commissioner Colvin said there had been more than 4,000 heroin-related deaths in Australia over the past four years and it was important that police continue cooperating with its neighbours to crack down on the drug trade.

“We have to weigh up the impact of narcotics in this country

“We have to protect all members of the community. This was a very difficult decision.

“Operationally, it was a sound decision but that doesn’t mean there were not human factors in it.”

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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