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Spy row threatens parole for 'beautiful' drugs smuggler

  |   Nov. 22, 2013 at 1:51 PM
CANBERRA, Australia, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- Parole for "beautiful" Australian convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby could be postponed indefinitely as relations between Indonesia and Australia deteriorate further.

Corby was 27 when she was caught, allegedly attempting to smuggle about 9 pounds of marijuana into Indonesia's resort town of Bali in October 2004. Since being sentenced in May 2005 to 20 years in jail, she has been held in Indonesia's Kerobokan Prison on the island of Bali.

The prison opened in 1979 and contains about 1,000 male and female prisoners of various nationalities, including Lindsay Sandiford, a British woman sentenced to death for drug trafficking.

Corby, a former Gold Coast beauty therapist, shares a cell with as many as 13 women, sleeping shoulder-to-shoulder on mattresses on the floor.

The new governor of the jail, after briefly meeting Corby during a ceremony welcoming him to the prison, called her "beautiful, attractive and polite," news.co.au reported this month.

Following reductions of her sentence for good behavior, it was expected she could be released on parole before Christmas to live with her sister Mercedes and Mercedes' husband and children in their Balinese home until 2017.

But since that interview, diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Australia imploded after the Australian Broadcasting Corp. and The Guardian-Australia reported that leaked material indicated Australia tried to spy on the Indonesian president.

The allegations include wiretapping of the cellphones of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and members of his inner circle, ABC reported Monday.

This week, Indonesia recalled its envoy to Australia and said it is reviewing its bilateral agreements with Australia.

More than 100 protesters in Jakarta burned an Australian flag and threw eggs at the Australian Embassy this week. They were venting their anger over Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's refusal to apologize for the monitoring of Yudhoyono's phone in 2009, The Jakarta Globe reported.

As public and diplomatic tensions mount, Australia's The Age newspaper reported at least one Indonesian parliamentarian has called for Indonesia to block any chance of parole for Corby.

However, The Age also reported that Indonesia's Minister for Law and Human Rights, Amir Syamsuddin, who must approve her release, said the process of parole is not negotiable and so "she will not be affected."

Diplomatic relations between Australia and Indonesia began to slide when Yudhoyono said this week he is suspending military and intelligence cooperation, including joint anti-people smuggling activities, The Jakarta Post reported.

The announcement appears to scupper Australia's recent hard-fought and won case for joint military action to prevent people smugglers from preying on thousands of asylum seekers looking for passage from or through the Indonesian archipelago en route to Australia.

Now, Australia's $174 million-a-year live cattle trade and cooperation between the country's police forces, critical to operations against people smuggling, are being targeted by Indonesia, news.com.au reported.

Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan was reported to have asked Parliament to revise animal health laws to allow the importation of live cattle from countries other than Australia. Australian imports have been allowed because they are free of foot and mouth disease.

Indonesian police chief Gen. Sutarman said his forces "have taken steps in connection with people smuggling co-operation -- we have to temporarily halt it while we wait for a further decision.

"If there's people smugglers breaking the law in Indonesia we will handle it ourselves. Before we always handled it together, now we handle it ourselves ... If it happens within Indonesian borders, then it's our responsibility and we will handle it alone."

Regardless of her release date, Corby could command almost $3 million for her first TV tell-all interview, news.com.au reported in October.

Corby always has maintained the drugs were planted in her body board bag and that she didn't know about them. But the public has remained divided about her case.

An opinion poll conducted for the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper just after her trial in 2005 found respondents believed the Indonesian justice system was unfair, but respondents were divided on whether Corby is guilty or innocent.

After her conviction, Corby appealed her case up to Indonesia's Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court's decision.

Corby petitioned the president of Indonesia for clemency in March 2010 on the grounds of mental illness -- she has spent several weeks in hospital for treatment of depression.

Yudhoyono granted Corby a five-year sentence reduction in May 2012.

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