AFP on the Bali executions: "This is the harsh reality for Australians who go overseas and commit crimes"

Australian Myuran Sukumaran escorted to Denpasar District Court, October 2005. Photo: Getty Images

Australian Federal Police (AFP) commissioner Andrew Colvin has warned young Australians of the fatal consequences of travelling abroad to commit crimes, saying it’s a “harsh reality”.

Colvin was speaking on the role the AFP played in the arrests of the Bali Nine drug smugglers in the face of lingering anger and the perception that the AFP sent Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan to their deaths by informing Indonesian authorities about the group.

“I need to acknowledge that many in the Australian community are angry with the AFP for our perceived role in 2005 that led to the executions last week,” Colvin said, before adding “we can’t apologise for the role we have in trying to stop drug importation.”

In early February 2005, Sukumaran, Andrew Chan and seven others were arrested in Bali, attempting to smuggle more than eight kilograms of heroin out of Indonesia.

In August 2005, the AFP confirmed Indonesia acted on information provided to them by Australian authorities.

Lee Rush, father of Scott Rush, one of the Bali Nine criminals, contacted the AFP ahead of his son’s departure from Australia, fearing he was travelling to Bali to commit a drug-related crime.

Rush claimed he received assurances from the AFP his son would be told he was under surveillance in an effort to dissuade him from going through with the crime, however, the authorities allowed Rush to board his flight to Bali without any prior warning he was under investigation.

Colvin said such claims are incorrect.

He said the arrests were not a result of a parent’s tip-off and officers would have arrested the group before leaving Australia if there was sufficient evidence.

“The AFP has at all times been open and accountable for the role we played in 2005,” he said.

“If we had enough evidence to arrest before they left Australia, we would have.”

In October 2007 Scott Rush’s lawyers took action against the AFP, alleging the authorities were wrong to pass on information to Indonesian police that led to the arrests, but the case was dismissed.

AFP deputy commissioner Michael Phelan had this to say about the AFP’s decision to inform the Indonesian authorities of the Australian’s intentions:

“If anybody thinks that over the last ten years I haven’t agonised over this decision then they don’t know me and they don’t know what it’s like to be, not only a senior law enforcement officer, but whether you’re a constable and you have to make split decisions, decisions at the moment or indeed, decisions when you have more information in front of you.

These are difficult decisions. I agonised over it at the time. As a matter of fact, when the first decision was made to hand over information to the Indonesians I stopped it because I wanted to have a full briefing on everything that was happening at the time — not post, obviously — to have as much information as I could to authorise the activity.

What was going through my mind was very much around what I wanted to achieve at the end here for the Australian public… I’ve seen the misery that drugs causes to tens of thousands of families in this country. We are charged with executing the laws of this country to the best of our ability. That’s the sort of thing that weighed on my mind at that moment.

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

…I’ve agonised over it for ten years now and every time I look back I still think it’s a difficult decision 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.”

Phelan stressed the AFP can never “lose control” and allow illegal narcotics to enter into the Australian community if it can be prevented.

I would never allow heroin, if I know it’s an amount of heroin, to come into Australia if I can help it,” he said.

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