by Glen Clancy
“It’s not true,” Schapelle Corby’s former defence lawyer, Robin Tampoe claimed, “That’s why you can’t put direct evidence relating to baggage handlers, ‘cause they didn’t do it.”
Last year Channel Nine Australia aired a two-part documentary, ‘The Hidden Truth,’ a self-described “definitive work on the Corby saga”. A “saga” bled from a desperate family whose daughter faced the death penalty on drug trafficking charges by an opportunistic Australian media. After speaking with Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer, Tampoe claimed he fabricated Corby’s defence.
In May 2005, just eleven days prior to Corby’s guilty verdict, Australia’s Foreign Affairs department sent Robin Tampoe a letter. The letter revealed that Sydney airport baggage handlers were being investigated for their role in drug trafficking. “We know there was an importation on a particular date and on a particular flight last year,” one police investigator reported. “You can limit it to within ten [baggage handlers].”
That particular date was October 8th 2004, the very same day Corby boarded her Qantas flight at Sydney airport on route to Bali. On that day, corrupt Qantas baggage handlers were retrieving 9.9 kilograms of cocaine planted in the luggage of an unsuspecting traveller arriving from Argentina.
On May 9th 2005 police arrested eleven men in connection with the Qantas baggage handling drug operation, including former Macquarie Bank director Ian Robert Chalmers. Qantas sacked two baggage handlers within four weeks of the bust. “We have a zero tolerance for any illegal activity,” Qantas CEO Geoff Dixon said, “and will act quickly to ensure people who should not be in our workforce are dealt with appropriately.”
It was revealed in the courts, that ‘Tom’, a NSW Crime commission informant, had later sold the cocaine on the streets of Sydney from the boot of former NSW detective Ian Charles Finch’s Statesman.
Ian Charles Finch who had been in contact with the NSW Crime Commission during the drug trafficking operation is currently serving more than three years jail after testifying to involvement in the sale of cocaine sales at the same location.
The jury heard from a recording of Tom’s listening device that a package of the cocaine was sold for $160,000 in St Johns Lane, Newtown, on February 23, 2005. This method was used “four to five times”.
Police documents revealed ‘Tom’ had the “responsibility for securing arrangements with Qantas baggage handlers at the international airport so that a briefcase containing the cocaine could be imported into Australia.”
It was exposed that the cocaine was sold with authorization from the highest levels of the NSW Crime Commission. NSW Crime Commissioner Phillip Bradley had personally signed for the approval of the cocaine sale.
Six kilograms was never retrieved.
Not one shred of evidence was presented at Schapelle Corby’s trial demonstrating that she had packed or checked in the 4.2 kilograms of marijuana discovered in her boogie board bag at Ngurah Rai airport, Bali. A comedy of “errors” and “coincidences” then ensured that the origin of the marijuana would remain inconclusive. In May 2005, Schapelle Corby was found guilty of drug smuggling and sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment in Indonesia, despite the ‘presumption of innocence’ written in three separate articles of Indonesian law. The Australian government provided no assistance to Corby’s defence.
The four bags checked in at Brisbane airport tagged in Schapelle Corby’s name were not weighed individually but the total weight of the four bags was sixty-five kilograms. Upon discovery of the marijuana the three other bags were only metres away. Corby demanded that the bags be weighed for evidence. Customs officials refused and the bags were taken from the airport.
The marijuana was sealed in a brand-named space bag; placed upside down inside another space bag. Indonesian airport custom’s officials broke their standard investigative procedures, handling the outside space bag and the bottom of the inside space bag with unprotected hands. First Ally McComb, Corby’s travelling partner, and Mercedes Corby when she arrived at the airport, demanded that they fingerprint the space bags. They received the same reply from Indonesian customs authorities. “Too late. Too many people have touched them.” Mercedes said she replied, “Well, stop it right now.” The customs officials laughed at her.
In late December 2004, almost three months after Corby’s arrest and after repeated requests to have the evidence fingerprinted, Corby’s lawyer, Lily Sri Rahaya Lubis confronted the head of investigations Senior Commissioner Bambang Sugiarto. “He confirmed the inside bag had not been removed,” Lubis reported, “He said he would have it fingerprinted.”
In March 2006, prosecutors burnt the 4.2 kilograms of marijuana, the boogie board bag and the boogie board itself. The evidence was never fingerprint tested. This appears to be the MO (Modus Operandi) of Indonesian officials when confronted with evidential situations that may get “sticky” when heavily scrutinized in the courts.
Within days of Corby’s arrest her lawyers repeatedly requested copies of the surveillance tapes at Brisbane and Sydney airports. Guy Pilgrim, a Corby family friend, understood the importance of the surveillance tapes and travelled to Brisbane airport four days after Corby’s arrest to ensure the tapes were in safe-keeping. Airport officials told Pilgrim “as long as they requested it, the tapes will arrive.” The next day the Federal police told Pilgrim they had contacted Brisbane airport and the tapes would be preserved.
Brisbane airport public relations manager, Jim Carden told Schapelle Corby’s mother days after Corby’s arrest that they had the footage but “didn’t have time to look at it”. After Corby’s defence failed to receive the tapes, Corby’s mother was told by Carden there was no footage. Carden finally dismissed customs accountability for the tapes pronouncing it was the responsibility of Qantas:
REPORTER: So you’re saying that the footage has nothing to do with the Customer Service relations at all?
JIM CARDEN: No. No, you inquire via Qantas. Qantas is responsible for all the baggage check in, passenger check in and baggage handling.
Qantas claimed that the Brisbane airport security tapes were wiped despite receiving requests for the tapes within days of Corby’s arrest. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was questioned about the status of the tapes on ABC radio. Downer declared that he had no control over airport surveillance stating: “I’m not the minister for tapes.”
At Corby’s trial the court heard that Australian Justice Minister Chris Ellison had confirmed in a letter that all cameras in Sydney Airport’s baggage handling area were operating on the day Corby boarded her flight to Bali. Defence lawyer Erwin Siregar told the court, “I’m going to send a letter to Chris Ellison to request him to send the footage and I hope the footage will be presented at the next hearing.” The tapes were never supplied.
Last year former customs official Allan Robert Kessing narrowly escaped a two year prison sentence after leaking two highly confidential documents in 2005 exposing organised crime at Sydney airport.
The following month Sir John Wheeler, senior British public servant was asked by deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson to conduct a report on the status of airport security in Australia. Australia’s customs service threatened airport security to remain silent when co-operating with investigators. The Customs service sent an email to staff members warning that they ‘should consider their obligations to the protection agency.’
Nevertheless, the report found that baggage handlers with high-security clearances had been involved in drug-smuggling.
Gary Lee Rogers, Assistant Inspector for Australian Protective Services (APS who was responsible for security at airports until 2002) was assaulted by his work colleagues after compiling a report on the security failings at Sydney airport. “I have already had a gun placed in my mouth,” Lee-Rogers wrote in a May 2002 email to Whistleblowers Australia (WBA), “and WBA should know it was [name given] of the ACT police who did it. Make it known he is a corrupt police officer acting under instructions … I am expecting an accident at any time.” Lee-Rogers filed an official complaint to the Ombudsman and a trial date was set for November 4th 2002.
On October 1st 2002 Gary Lee-Rogers was found in his flat with a blood-stained knife, bloodied pillow and two white plastic bottles in his right hand.
“My case will call the Prime Minister and other high-profile people to answer,” Lee-Rogers wrote to Whistleblowers Australia. “I am in fear of my life and make it known through the WBA if I suicide that there is someone behind my demise.” The coroner concluded that Lee-Rogers killed himself.
“Today at 1400 hours I received an anonymous phone call,” Gary Lee-Rogers wrote to WBA, “saying that I had ‘tripped’ over evidence of drug importation through Sydney Airport involving the old Commonwealth Police Network.”
Former head of the Australian Federal Police anti organised crime operations, Ray Cooper said that police were involved in drug trafficking and were protecting corrupt baggage handlers from investigation.
ROSS COULTHART: And he says his investigations ten years ago revealed corrupt police were involved with drug traffickers using airports to move drugs around the country.
RAY COOPER: There were some people in there that were protecting these people and I was told to go softly softly.
ROSS COULTHART: Were your concerns about corruption in baggage handling in Australian airports ever adequately investigated?
RAY COOPER: No. In fact we ran an operation with the Qld Police one weekend at Coolangatta Airport where we put sniffer dogs over bags and we found some narcotics and we were criticised for the operation.
Cooper also revealed that it was well known amongst the Australian federal police that unwitting passengers were regularly used as mules to traffic narcotics between domestic airports, especially cannabis.
ROSS COULTHART: You are aware from your own experiences as a senior federal police officer, of incidents where drugs were moved between Australian airports by drug traffickers.
RAY COOPER, FORMER AFP INTERNAL INVESTIGATOR: Yes I’m aware of it.
ROSS COULTHART: Using baggage handling staff.
RAY COOPER: Using baggage handling staff yes.
ROSS COULTHART: Were there incidents that you were aware of in your time with the federal police, where unwitting passengers were used as mules to shift drugs between domestic airports.
RAY COOPER: There was ample intelligence when I was there. It was regular intelligence regarding this particular practice was going on. See I was in charge, I was in charge of the Gold Coast. And I can tell you that I’ve, we’ve done some operations on the Gold Coast, checking baggage, internal baggage if you like on domestic flights, and there was no control at the back of that airport, everyone, every man and his dog could access those baggages.
ROSS COULTHART: Can I be clear on this, are you saying that there were regular investigations into intelligence suggesting drug trafficking and corruption amongst airport staff, including baggage handlers.
RAY COOPER: Yes, it was well known, it was a well-known amongst the federal police that this particular operation and this particular strategy was being adopted by criminals.
ROSS COULTHART: More concerning, Ray Cooper’s investigations back then suggested some corrupt State and Federal police were in league with drug traffickers at the airport.
RAY COOPER: There were lots of allegations regarding various drug trafficking operations. And from time to time Police were linked to those operations. There were narcotics, particularly cannabis, being moved from airport to airport by syndicates, and the baggage handlers were playing a key role in it.
On the day Schapelle Corby departed Sydney airport, corrupt baggage handlers were extracting 9.9 kilograms of cocaine from an innocent traveler’s luggage, later sold with the signed approval of NSW Crime Commissioner Phillip Bradley. That night Corby was arrested in Bali after 4.2 kilograms of marijuana was found in her unlocked boogie board bag. “These dates,” investigators revealed of the Sydney airport drug bust, “were based on the work rosters of the corrupt baggage handlers at Sydney Airport.”
No baggage handlers were ever arrested.
Despite Robin Tampoe’s divulgence on Channel nine’s “definitive” documentary there is overwhelming evidence of Australian airport baggage handlers involved in drug trafficking.