Australia police defend Bali Nine operation

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionCommissioner Andrew Colvin: ''We were not in a position to arrest any members of the Bali Nine prior to their departure from Australia''

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) have defended their role in the arrests of the Bali Nine Australian drug gang.

Information shared by the AFP with Indonesian police in 2005 led to the arrest and conviction of the gang and the execution of the two ringleaders.

Police have been criticised for reporting the men despite knowing they could face the death penalty.

But senior officers said they were unable to arrest the gang before they left Australia for Indonesia.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were killed by an Indonesian firing squad on Wednesday despite Australian diplomatic pressure.

The AFP will soon be called before a parliamentary committee to explain the decision.

'Fanciful and offensive'

Commissioner Colvin told a media conference on Monday: "If we had had enough information to arrest the Bali Nine before they left Australia we would have done exactly that."

He said the AFP did not know how many members were in the gang or what drugs they were dealing with, which was why they contacted their Indonesian counterparts.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Police shared information with Indonesia that led to the execution of two Australian drug traffickers

He said media reports that the AFP found out about the gang from a tip-off from the father of one of the gang, were incorrect because the AFP already knew about the syndicate.

He said also reports the AFP had "shopped" the gang to Indonesia in a bid to curry favour with police there were "fanciful and offensive".

However, he admitted one of the investigating officers asked to be removed from the team because he was upset about the risk the gang members might face the death penalty.

Commissioner Colvin also said he could not guarantee that other Australians caught smuggling drugs in countries with the death penalty would not suffer the same fate.

He said police took into account the risk of passing on information, but that police guidelines said they must also work with foreign police.

The case of the Bali Nine

  • The eight men and one woman were arrested in April 2005 at an airport and hotel in Bali, Indonesia after a tip-off from Australian police. They were trying to carry 8.3kg (18lb) of heroin back to Australia.
  • In 2006 a court ruled that Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran had recruited the others and paid their costs. They were sentenced to death and executed on 29 April.
  • The other seven are serving sentences of between 20 years and life, after some had death sentences revoked on appeal.
  • Chan and Sukumaran had repeatedly appealed against their sentences, saying they were reformed characters - Chan taught Bible and cookery classes in prison while Sukumaran became an artist.

'Agonising decision'

Deputy Commissioner Michael Phelan, who made the decision to share information with Indonesia, said he worried about it at the time and ever since.

He said when he made the decision, protecting Australians from drugs was at the forefront of his mind, not Australia's relationship with Indonesia.

"If anyone thinks I have not agonised over this for the past 10 years then they don't know me," he said.

Commissioner Colvin said it was vital Australia worked closely with overseas law enforcement agencies to tackle trans-national crime.

"It is a hard reality but many of these countries still have a death penalty for these offences," he said.

The AFP receives about 72,000 requests a year via Interpol to share information about suspected criminal activity.

In the past three years, it has received about 250 such requests from countries that have the death penalty. Of that number, 15 requests from a range of countries including China were rejected.

Guidelines setting priorities for how the AFP deals with foreign police were strengthened in 2009 and include weighing up the value of such interaction and the risk that suspects could face the death penalty.

More on this story