Australian Police Raid the Seven Network in Sydney
SYDNEY -- Australian federal police raided the offices of the Seven Network in Sydney Tuesday morning as part of an investigation in response to a reported deal between the commercial broadcaster and Schapelle Corby, who was recently released from prison in Indonesia after serving time for drug smuggling.
The offices of the broadcaster's lawyers and sister company Pacific Magazines were also raided.
Corby was freed from the notorious Kerobokan Prison in Bali, Indonesia, over a week ago. Australian local media have run reports speculating that Seven and Pacific may have paid her as much as $1.8 million ($2 million Australian dollars) to tell her story.
Under Australian law, convicted criminals aren't allowed to tell their stories for commercial gain.
An Australian Federal Police (AFP) spokesman said: "The AFP can confirm it has executed a number of search warrants in Sydney in relation to an ongoing Proceeds of Crime Act matter. As this matter is ongoing, it's not appropriate for the AFP to comment further."
Corby was found guilty by an Indonesian court of trying to smuggle over nine pounds of marijuana into Bali in 2005. She served nine-and-a-half years of her sentence and was released on Feb. 10. The telegenic 36-year-old has maintained her innocence throughout the ordeal but has not appeared in public since her release.
While Seven and Corby's family have not confirmed a deal to do the interview, Mike Willesee, a reporter for Seven's current affairs show Sunday Night is staying at the same luxury resort in Bali where Corby has resided since her release and where she is watched over by three security guards hired by the Seven Network.
Corby is required to serve another three years on parole until her final release from Indonesian authorities in 2017.
A statement from Seven Network CEO Tim Worner tonight said that the raids were a surprise and that the company had been cooperating with the AFP. He added that the raid appeared to impinge on media rights and freedoms.
"The AFP has previously asked for information on Schapelle Corby and any contract we may have entered into. We provided all the information requested from us and instructed our lawyers to provide any additional information they might have. The AFP did not seem to accept that we have not reached an agreement or understanding with Schapelle Corby," Worner said.
"A raid on our offices at Pyrmont and at Pacific Magazines and at our lawyers' offices involving around 30 police and eight squad cars to find information we have already provided seems like overkill, to say the least. But what is most disturbing is to also seek to use search warrants to access all of our news and corporate records. This is without justification and quite possibly unprecedented for a media organization," he said.
He added that "any interference in fair reporting and newsgathering is regrettable."
"We have a history of providing and breaking news stories and reporting matters of public interest. And Seven remains committed to that," he added.
Aside from the AFP's actions, any potential interview appeared to have been put on the back burner last week when Indonesian officials warned the 36-year-old that she would be "foolhardy" to do any interviews.
Part of the condition of her release was that she not "cause unrest to the community." Increasingly, the Indonesian public and local officials are regarding the media circus surrounding Corby as a source of unrest. In addition, they are keen to know what she will say about her stay in the notorious prison.
Last week, Indonesian justice minister Amir Syamsuddin and officials in Bali publicly warned Corby that if she does the interview she will breach her parole. The director general of prisons is the one who decides whether she has caused "unrest."
Following the AFP raids, News Corp Australia site news.com.au quoted Seven's Willesee saying that the AFP would not find anything.
"The first thing I want to say about the Australian Federal Police raid is that it will finally nail the lie of the $2 million dollar payment that's been repeated and repeated in the Australian media," Willesee told reporters in Bali.
When asked the value of the potential interview deal, he rebutted, "There is no deal."
He said he has not spoken to Seven management about whether the interview will still go ahead.
"We've positioned ourselves to be the first in line if there is an interview. There is no deal," he remarked. "[The raid] will find nothing. They will find no payment because there is no payment.
"I'd be most surprised [if they found correspondence relating to payment] but I'm not privy to correspondence of people upstairs."
The raid took place as Seven West Media senior management was delivering the company's half-year results to analysts, including a profit of $135 million, at a center next door to the company's offices.