A prominent Dutch television reporter pleaded not guilty in an Australian court yesterday to disobeying a police order to stay away from an international crime suspect.
Television journalist Peter de Vries and colleague Chantal van Schuylenburgh were arrested last week after officials said they visited a property in Perth, Western Australia, several times despite being warned by police to stay away.
De Vries, 53, said they were trying to contact a suspect in the slaying of Dutch woman Mariska Mast, who died while vacationing in Honduras in 2008. Interpol lists the man as wanted by a Honduran court for alleged crimes against life and health.
Yesterday, De Vries pleaded not guilty to disobeying a move-on order in Perth Magistrates Court, arguing he had a “reasonable excuse” for failing to comply with the instructions. In a statement to reporters, de Vries said he just wanted to talk to the man to hear his side of the story.
De Vries is the Netherlands’ highest-profile crime reporter. He made global headlines for a 2008 show about the disappearance of US teenager Natalee Holloway in Aruba.
It was based on hidden-camera interviews with Joran van der Sloot, the Dutch man last seen with Holloway before her disappearance on May 30, 2005.
De Vries told journalists outside court that he thought his treatment by Australian police was “out of proportion” to what he had done.
“I think I did nothing wrong,” he said. “It’s very hard to plead guilty when you don’t feel guilty.”
Van Schuylenburgh pleaded guilty on Saturday to the same charge, was fined A$200 (US$178) and charged A$62.50 in court costs.
De Vries’ case was adjourned until Sept. 7, when a trial date will be set. The journalist said he planned to fly back to the Netherlands last night and didn’t know if he would return for the trial.