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The Other Chappelle

07.12.2005 | POLITICS

When Comedy Central's Dave Chappelle fled to South Africa, fans wondered if he had a drug problem. Turns out, though, if he'd overdosed, it was on his entourage. Meanwhile, across the Indian Ocean, another Chappelle found herself embroiled in the ultimate young-white-woman-in-distress saga. If Australian Schapelle Corby were American, her case would have blasted the Runaway Bride off the airwaves.

In October 2004 the twenty-eight-year-old from Queensland checked her bags in Brisbane and boarded a plane that stopped in Sydney before proceeding to popular Aussie vacation spot Bali. However, when a customs agent at the Denpasar airport extracted a nine-pound marijuana brick from one of her bags, her Bali high turned into a Bali bummer and she was arrested.

Marijuana, though, isn't usually smuggled into Bali, both because its growth in the wild depresses the price and the penalty is--insert thunderclap here--death. Aware of this and treated to news photos like one of Corby in a cell with men, Australians embraced this spirited "sheila" with the mesmerizing green-gray eyes.

For guys, guilt over finding a woman this distraught fetching--especially when tear-stained--no doubt compounded their sympathy. Sentiments like "Free Schapelle" and "We love you, Schapelle" filled message boards and adorned T-shirts and "stubbie" (beer can) holders.

Even Russell Crowe weighed in: "It is Indonesia, fine and dandy, but we need to... save this girl's life." Bloggers were more hostile: "We are sending 1 billion dollars of tsunami relief to Indonesia and they choose to repay us by executing one of our... chicks from Queensland?" Others swore to boycott Bali, which, though not itself struck by the tsunami, had resurrected its tourist trade since the October 2002 disco bombing that killed 202.

During the trial, Australian inmate John Patrick Ford was allowed to testify that he shared a Melbourne cell with a man who bribed baggage handlers in Brisbane to insert drugs into passengers' luggage. Also in his employ were baggage handlers in Sydney, who somehow failed to extract the stash in Corby's bag, which was then routed to Bali.

Upon his return to prison, Ford, as if to confirm his testimony, was slashed by an inmate. The court, however, dismissed this as hearsay.

Next Corby's three traveling companions testified that the bag she checked contained only a body-surfing board and flippers. When the court perversely insisted one of her friends then claim ownership, the defense was again shot down.

As the tumultuous trial drew to a close, it seemed as if the Bali justice system was imploding. The Australian justice system, however, chose that moment to explode. Two weeks before the trial's end, the Australian Federal Police announced that Qantas baggage handlers had been paid $300,000 to sneak $30 million worth of cocaine past customs in Sydney.

The only problem was, perhaps to protect undercover agents, they'd refused to acknowledge it in time for Corby's defense to present it to the court. Worse, an AFP mole tipped off syndicate bosses, allowing two to escape.

Further disgrace, however, awaited the AFP. A day that it alleged baggage handlers processed almost twenty-two pounds of cocaine through Sydney was the same day Corby had connected there. Chief Judge Linton Sirait's reaction to Australia's airport scandal? "We only examine events that take place within the Denpasar jurisdiction."

After the inevitable guilty verdict delivered by a ranting Sirait, Corby was sentenced to a "lenient" twenty-year term.. In Australia, a letter containing faux anthrax was sent to the Indonesian embassy, while Indonesian protesters demanded death. An Australian poll showed three-quarters of the population favored boycotting Indonesian vacation spots.

With rumors of an attempted breakout floating around, security was tightened at Kerobokan prison, to which Corby is remanded. However, it's no Midnight Express nightmare. "If you are going to be in prison in Asia," inmate Robert Fraser said, "this is the place to be."

Then, on June 13, the prosecutor, teeth still firmly planted in the pants of this case, filed a document urging a life sentence. In turn, on June 21, celebrity Indonesian lawyer Hotman Paris Hutapea, now defending Corby, called on the Australian government to convince corrupt airport baggage handlers to testify at Corby's appeal. Meanwhile, in response to proposed Australian oversight of his briefs, Hutapea said, "I challenge the best Australian lawyers to come to Indonesia and criticize my work."

This case--truly the legal equivalent of the gift that keeps on giving--is like a live wire that's been severed but, nevertheless, snaps and sparks. First Hutapea was fired and then rehired by Corby. Then Perth lawyer Mark Trowell claimed that Corby's legal team floated the idea of soliciting $500,000 from the Australian Government for lobbying (read: bribery) purposes.

"Suddenly somebody from Australia threw out the bomb to the air which caused [a] problem to our... defense," Hotapea said. Meanwhile, he hired beautiful Indonesian soap opera star Anisa Tri Hapsari as the case's "information officer."

Then, in an uncharacteristic response to Hotapea's offensive, the Bali High Court agreed to hear testimony from new witnesses. The defense, however, has only until July 20--just like in a movie script--to locate the person who deposited the marijuana in Corby's bag.

Americans may scoff at the Balinese justice system. However, the dormant Victory Act, which Senator Orrin Hatch hatched in 2003, could awake with a roar at any time. Since drug trafficking is sometimes used to finance terrorism, this bill treats drug dealers as terrorists. You can imagine the penalty.

If Corby were an Aborigine, jerks the progressive knee, there'd be no groundswell of support, including donations for her defense and safekeeping. And what about Lori Berenson, denied mass backing because, alas, she's not as hot?

By virtue of its usefulness, however, Corby's case sidesteps this response. Whether or not it was a catalyst, it illuminated the AFP investigation, as well as police corruption. In addition, it's subjected severe drug laws, a human rights issue, to the harsh light of the Australian day and shown they can be bent to political will.

Schapelle Corby might seem like just another young white woman in distress, but sometimes a sheila shall lead them.

About the Author
Russ Wellen is an editor at Freezerbox who specializes in foreign affairs and nuclear deproliferation.
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