Tue, Jun 28, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Diplomats relieved at Corby farce

MONEY GAMES The Australian woman convicted of carrying drugs into Bali is surrounded by family and associates who are eroding public sympathy for her

DPA , SYDNEY

The sad fact is that the next time Schapelle Corby will be stirring the emotions of Australians is a date well into the future, when she walks free from an Indonesian prison into what is likely to be a very small gaggle of well-wishers.

The pretty 27-year-old, with the help of her gold-digger family and some bizarre zig-zags in the conduct of her Supreme Court appeal, has used up the vast outpouring of sympathy and public outrage that greeted the 20-year sentence a Bali court handed her last month, after deciding she did try to bring in 4.1kg of marijuana on a flight from Sydney last October.

At the weekend, Corby dismissed and then re-engaged her legal team. She appointed and then sacked as her chief strategist the Jakarta-based, Australian-born German citizen Walter Tonetto, a 47-year-old with no legal qualifications who describes himself as "an educator, businessman and visioneer."

She also parted with discharged bankrupt and self-appointed Team Corby moneyman Ron Bakir, a Gold Coast cellphone salesman who has been stitching up business deals for her and her family.

"They're all becoming characters in a sort of soap opera, aren't they?" Foreign Minister Alexander Downer quipped. "We're all watching closely and with a great deal of interest, but of course in my position I'm not really prepared to comment publicly on what I think about it all."

Privately, of course, Downer would admit that the ebbing of the tide of sympathy for Corby also means less stress in the crucially important relationship between Jakarta and Canberra.

The day the verdict was declared and a devastated Corby was shown on Australian television responding tearfully to the 20-year sentence, Australian Prime Minister John Howard was fearful that the case could collapse the carefully crafted rapprochement with Indonesia and unravel his personal friendship with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Last month, the Howard government was in overdrive trying to placate Australian public opinion after the Corby case dominated the media.

Now, the tide of public opinion has turned against the lachrymose Corby and her tacky retinue of business advisers and publicity agents. Howard is off the hook and Downer is able to joke about the real and imagined television soap stars that people the Corby case.

There is a real television star: Indonesian pop princess Anisa Hapsari, the lovely face of a public-relations campaign set in train by Corby's bejeweled, on-again off-again Jakarta lawyer, Hotman Paris Hutapea.

She went on Indonesian television, according to Hutapea, to whip up some domestic sympathy for Corby and so influence the outcome of her Supreme Court appeal.

There was huge media interest in Corby, the photogenic divorcee who, when not holidaying in Bali, worked in the family fish-and-chips shop on the Gold Coast. There was a bidding war for her story.

Enormous sums were on the table for any aspect of the tale.

Amazingly, none of the lawyers she engaged seemed to be interested in getting paid. Hutapea promised to pay all his costs himself. Two eminent Australian barristers said they would be working for free.

Bakir, Corby's self-styled "white knight," pledged that he would not earn a single cent from the deals he arranged. Tonetto never mentioned money.

Corby's family was less circumspect. Moments after the verdict was handed down, Corby's sister left her side to do a paid interview. Her mother took an all-expenses-paid trip to Bali to attend court.

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