THE STORY THAT WON’T GO AWAY © Duncan Graham 2006
The much traveled Bali lawyer Erwin Siregar is about to take his wife and children to Japan for their Christmas holiday.
On his return in January he hopes he’ll be flying again, this time to Australia in the company of drug-runner Schapelle Corby. The 29 year old is currently a guest of the Republic for the next two decades; address Kerobokan Jail, known to Australians as Hotel K.
Siregar already imagines the scene: Walking into the airport lounge, TV crews everywhere jostling for interviews, cheering crowds of diehard supporters. By his side the famous / infamous Gold Coast brunette flashing her baby blues, her décolletage jail-chic, radiant with her new-found freedom. Then maybe the white knight will get some of the US $120,000 (Rp I billion) he claims he’s owed for defending the former beauty therapist.
It’s an appealing fantasy. Literally, for its fulfillment depends entirely on the success of Siregar’s latest bid to prove that Corby did not wittingly import 4.1 kilos of marihuana through Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport in October 2004.
This extraordinary appeal is being made to the Supreme Court in Jakarta and it’s basically a review of the published evidence and judgment. It will not require the appearance of either Corby or her lawyer, though he or his staff may be in the capital to keep an eye on things.
It’s not the first attempt. One got her term knocked down to 15 years – another had the 20-year sentence reinstated.
Siregar said one of three results could be expected: Corby’s 20-year sentence would stand, or it would be reduced, or she’d be acquitted. Although the prosecution is opposing the appeal, Siregar said a higher sentence could not be imposed.
Like any good defense lawyer he says he’s optimistic. “One day justice will come,” he said in his modest Denpasar office. “Maybe next month.
“Till today I still think she is not guilty. I see it in her body language, in her eyes. I have been a lawyer since 1981. I have handled maybe 200 drug cases in that time. There are so many reasonable doubts in this case.
“I think only crazy people would bring expensive marihuana from Australia to Indonesia where it’s cheap. She’s not a drug user – blood and urine samples prove that. She has no record in Australia.”
Siregar then rapidly ripped apart what he claims are the flaws in the prosecution and court decisions, and the grounds of the challenges.
If you’ve followed this seemingly endless Australian tear-jerker that tends to leave Indonesians cold, you’d know the appeal points are not new: The police didn’t take fingerprints. Her luggage wasn’t weighed on arrival in Bali then compared against the check-in weight in Australia; this might have shown that the drugs could have been added to her boogie bag by back-scenes airport staff.
Then there’s the court’s refusal to use teleconferencing facilities so an alleged witness in Australia - apparently too frightened to fly to Indonesia - can claim the drugs were his.
Siregar is too savvy to hard prose his criticisms of the courts that have so far found his arguments spectacularly unimpressive. Instead he put his hands over his ears, then over his eyes, indicating that maybe the learned judges didn’t quite catch the points being made by the defense.
A day before talking to The Jakarta Post two complimentary copies of Corby’s just released biography My Story, co-authored by Kathryn Bonella were delivered to Siregar, courtesy of the prisoner.
One was for him, the other for his expert witness in the earlier failed High Court appeal, law professor Indriyanto Seno Adji. The inscription ‘Be Positive’ included a hand drawn ‘Smiley’.
Displaying the usual loser’s response, Corby’s book is not kind to her defense team that she sacked after the verdict. There was lawyer Lily Lubis, Vasudevan Rasiah and Siregar. Jakarta lawyer Hotman Paris Hutapea, who usually gets tagged “flamboyant”, resigned according to Siregar.
Rasiah has been the focus of much of Corby’s wrath. Although he is often labeled ‘lawyer’ in the Australian media, Siregar said Rasiah was not a lawyer but a ‘contractor’.
“A week after the verdict Schapelle called me and apologized and said she wanted me to stay on the case,” Siregar said.
“I replied: ‘I will never leave you alone. If you don’t sack me then I’ll stay with you to the end.’”
In her book Corby criticizes Lubis, claiming she was constantly crying and didn’t have the skills to mount a vigorous defence. Siregar agreed his legal colleague had limited experience and had not pushed the point about alleged weight discrepancies.
But he refused to comment on her performance, saying he had seen her cry only once when the first verdict was announced. He said Lubis brought him into the case sixty days after Corby was arrested because of his experience.
Corby’s book is reported to be selling well with 17,000 copies jumping off the shelves in the first week. If normal author’s royalty conditions apply Corby and Bonella should share ten per cent of the retail price, currently around AUD $30 (Rp 200,000).
Publisher Pan Macmillan claims Corby wants to use the proceeds to pay for her defence. Siregar made some quick calculations and reckoned that even if sales stay good she wouldn’t have enough to clear her debts.
However if she loses the extraordinary appeal and retains her convict status neither she nor Siregar will see any royalties. The Australian government will seize it all because that country has laws banning criminals profiting from ill-gotten gains.
In her book Corby claims that AUD $80,000 (Rp 560 million) has been spent on her legal fees. Siregar said he’s received only US $3,000 (Rp 27 million) from Rasiah. If Corby and her supporters can’t find the cash Siregar reckons the Australian government should pay. He’s already sent a bill but this has just been rejected.
“So far I’ve been doing this for humanitarian reasons,” he said. “I’m a Christian, my wife is a Sunday school teacher.
“I come from a poor family in Sumatra. I went to high school in Surabaya but didn’t have enough money to study law.
“So I came to Bali and worked on the beach and as an illegal tour guide to get enough cash to put me through university.
“I see Schapelle maybe every two weeks or so. I think she likes me very much. We talk about religion, life, the law. Are her spirits still high? Yes. Till now.”
And what happens if the extraordinary appeal fails? “We can appeal again if there’s new information from a reliable witness.”
Whatever the verdict one thing is certain: This story still has legs.
(First published in The Jakarta Post 20 December 2006)