Wednesday, February 05, 2014

A Remarkable, Almost Forgotten Story About Drugs Found In A Bag In Bali

The infamous boogie board bag and 4 kilos of cannabis

As Schapelle Corby gets closer to release from jail, here's a recap of one of the most extraordinary stories that emerged during Corby's trial. It was covered briefly by the media, and soon forgotten.

June, 1997.

This is a true story, but we'll call them Lisa and Colin.
Lisa and Colin lived in Melbourne. They’d been working too hard and Melbourne had been too wet and too grey. They decided they needed a holiday.
Like hundreds of thousands of other young Australians each year, Colin and Lisa decided Bali was just the ticket. A short flight there and back, cheap airfares, endless sunshine, tropical heat and all those bars and nightclubs and endless miles of white sandy beaches. They asked each other a simple question. What could be more fun and more relaxing than two weeks in paradise?
Colin and Lisa flew out of Melbourne and into Bali. They grabbed their bags off the luggage carousel at Denpasar Airport, checked through Customs and went straight to their hotel room.
Colin lifted the bags onto the bed so Lisa could start the unpacking while he headed to the toilet.
Lisa zipped open the first bag and looked inside.
She froze.
Tucked snugly between the neatly folded clothes was a fat brick of compressed cannabis, tightly bound in plastic wrap.
The brick was the size of a loaf of bread.
Oh, shit...
Lisa yelled for her husband.
“Colin? Colin!”
When Colin rushed back into the bedroom and saw what Lisa was holding in her hands he thought for a moment he might actually be dreaming.
This simply couldn’t be happening.
Colin wasn’t an idiot, he read newspapers, he watched television, he’d seen the movies about this kind of thing, he knew what the punishment was for being busted in Bali with a big fat brick of cannabis.
Drug traffickers got the death sentence. Signs all over the airport they had just passed through told him that.
It didn’t matter that Colin and Lisa had no idea where the cannabis had come from, all that mattered was that it was in this hotel room with them, it was in their possession.
The death sentence.
And Colin knew what that meant. Death by firing squad. For him and for Lisa.
Panic hit him like ice water in the face.
Colin was smart, or smart enough. He knew he had to make immediate contact with an Australian official in Bali, someone who could tell what the fuck they were supposed to do. He had to tell an Australian official what they had found in their luggage before the Indonesian police found out.
Colin located the number of the Australian Consulate and dialled with trembling fingers.
When he finally got through to someone at the Consulate and explained what had just gone down he was placed on hold, for long minutes.
An Australian consulate staff member eventually came onto the line.
"Do you want the good news or the bad news?"
"Well," Colin said, "give me the good news."
The voice laughed, "There isn't any."
Colin swallowed hard.
"What's the bad news then?"
The voice that was supposed to help fix everything then told Colin something incredible, something impossible to believe.
"You get caught with that mate,” the voice said, “and you'll be eating nasi goreng in jail here for the rest of your life."
Colin was shocked.
What the fuck is going on here?
"Here's what you do," the consulate staff member told him, "flush it down the toilet. Break it up and flush it down the toilet, now. Get it out of your possession and do not, under any circumstances at all, do not make contact with the Indonesian authorities."
So that was it. Colin hung up and told his wife. She was as dumbfounded by the advice given as Colin was.
But he had to do it. And he had to do it now.
Colin grabbed the cannabis loaf and stripped off the plastic wrap as he lurched into the bathroom. The rich smell of the tightly compressed cannabis heads hit his nose and swirled his brain.
The fumes was breathtaking.
With trembling fingers Colin broke up a third of the brick and dropped the fat clumps into the toilet bowl. Not too much at a time, he had to be careful. If he tried to flush it all it might block up the toilet, and when the plumber came and found out what had caused the blockage....
Colin flushed the first lot and looked down.
Oh, shit...
Some of it had been flushed away but the rest was still there, bobbing away, and there was a ring of cannabis detritus and resin around the bowl. He flushed again, and then again, but the water wouldn’t get rid of it all. There was always something left, something obviously suspicious floating there, or glued to the porcelin.
Colin knew he couldn't take the remaining brick of cannabis downstairs, that would an act of sheer lunacy. There could be Indonesian police down in the foyer, right now, tipped off or something, waiting to bust him.
But then another thought hit Colin and the rest of the blood drained from his legs, they nearly buckled beneath him.
Worse, much worse than the cops. Right now, down in the foyer, there might be the people who owned this cannabis, asking about him and Lisa, or lying in wait. The people who missed the pick-up at the airport could have followed them back to this hotel, they could be on their way up right now....
Colin was freaking himself out with such thoughts.
The smell of cannabis resin in the room was cloying.
He dashed for the balcony. He looked around, tried to contain his panic, but there was nowhere to hide all this cannabis. He couldn’t just throw it off the balcony. What was he going to do?
Colin looked closer at the little garden that was the main feature of the balcony. He had a brainwave.
While Lisa watched on and urged him to hurry, Colin tore the fat half brick of cannabis heads into small clumps and spread them across the balcony’s garden. He sprinkled the cannabis amongst the fallen leaves, he buried long fat heads that his sticky, trembling fingers couldn’t break into pieces deep  down into the soil.
“Hurry up!” Lisa cried as she watched the door of the hotel room, thinking at any moment it would be broken down and Indonesian police would come charging in.
Colin hurried.
And then it was done.
Colin and Lisa looked the garden over carefully. Was anything suspicious still visible?
Unless someone looked real close, and dug amongst the garden's dirt, nobody was going to notice there was more than a kilo of cannabis heads buried and scattered.
That rich, pungent smell lingered still but the heat of the day and the cooler evening breeze to come would take care of that.
Colin and Lisa looked at each other, laughed nervously.
They thought they would be safe now. All the evidence that could have seen them both shot through the chest with six bullets each had been destroyed.
They were relieved the minutes of high panic were over, now their holiday could begin. And they had one hell of a travellers tale to tell once they got safely back to Melbourne.
But for years afterwards their minds were still full of questions.
How often did travellers like them find fat bricks of cannabis tucked neatly away in their luggage?
Who, with access to their luggage, would have put it there in the first place?
And why.
So many whys.
Why had the Australian consulate official been so downright casual about what Colin had told him? And why hadn’t the official come to the hotel to help them out?
How often did the Australian consulate get such phone calls from Australian travellers who had suddenly found they had become unwilling drug mules somewhere on the way to Bali?
Nobody from the Australian embassy or the government ever made contact with Lisa and Colin. Nobody ever questioned them about what had happened. There was no Australian Federal Police investigation, no phone call from the Department of Foreign Affairs to find out more.
Years later Lisa and Colin would still, occasionally, talk about their experience and ask each other, “What the hell was that all about?”
And they remained haunted by the lingering questions, the what-ifs.
What if they hadn’t found the cannabis in their luggage when they did?
What if the people who owned the drugs had come to try and get them back?
What if their hotel room had been raided by the Indonesian police?
What if someone at the Customs desk of Denpasar Airport had opened the bag after they picked it up from the luggage carousel and had found that brick of cannabis?
Would they be in a Bali jail still?
Would they now be waiting on death row, still trying to get judges to believe that they really were innocent? That they didn’t know how all that cannabis got into their luggage?
Would anyone believe them?

- This is a chapter from a book draft I wrote in 2006 about the Schapelle Corby saga. I'll be publishing excerpts from it here over the next few weeks.