By Matthew Moore, Herald Correspondent in Denpasar
For five years she has been making daily visits to her son in
Kerobokan jail, Bali, and Helene Le Touzey still cries as she tells
the story of what happened to him.
As she watched a distressed Schapelle Corby prepare for court
this week, the 54-year-old French woman found herself weeping
again, this time for Corby's future, which reminds her so much of
her son's painful past.
"There are so many similarities between the two," Ms Le Touzey
said as she ran through the details of the case of her son, Michael
He was 26 when he flew from India into Denpasar on Boxing Day
1999, and put his bag through the X-ray machine, as Corby did with
her boogie-board bag. Corby is 27.
When customs officers saw something suspicious, they took him to
one room and the dive bag containing two scuba tanks to another, a
breach of customs practice like that which Corby has complained
Blanc says he was called into the second room, and confronted
with the tanks already cut open and a 3.8-kilogram pile of hashish,
just 300 grams less than the amount of marijuana in Corby's
He denies the drugs were his and believes they, like the tanks,
were owned by a friend called Philip. Blanc had been living in Bali
for a year, says he met Philip there, travelled with him to India
and returned alone with the dive bag and the tanks.
But Blanc has been unable to provide more of Philip's name that
could see him identified.
To try to show his innocence, Blanc asked police to fingerprint
the bags containing the hashish, but they failed to do so, just as
they failed to do with Corby's plastic bags of marijuana.
Ms Le Touzey remembers the shock of the trial clearly, and can
understand the distress it is now causing Corby.
"The prosecutor said, 'Michael is a very nice guy, he's very
young, he's been very polite in the court and has no criminal
record - I ask for the death sentence'," she said.
"The judge said Michael is fully guilty. 'I sentence him to life
Ms Le Touzey was horrified, and immediately helped her son
appeal. So did the prosecutor, who argued that life was too lenient
and again sought death.
As usual, there were no appeal hearings and Ms Le Touzey only
learnt she had failed 12 days after the decision came down.
She appealed again and this time the Supreme Court kept the life
sentence but added a fine of about $A70,000. If the money was not
paid an extra six months' jail would be added.
Before she became a student of the Indonesian legal system, Ms
Le Touzey enjoyed a comfortable life with another son in
Bonneville, in the French Alps, where she worked as an accountant
and liked to ski, ride horses and go to concerts.
She abandoned all that when Michael was convicted, moved to
Bali, where she lives alone in a rented house, surviving on
donations from friends and groups in France who fight for her son's
"When this happened I got a big lesson about life. I was not
very rich, but life was comfortable, easy, not stressed, and when I
got here I got a reality check and I had to learn very fast many
things I never knew before."
She is at the prison every weekday afternoon, and helps inmates
from all parts of the world, still touched by others she sees in
the black hole of despair her son used to occupy.
On Wednesdays she takes two takeaway couscous meals to Michael
and a friend, a gift the Warasan Restaurant has donated every week
since his conviction. She gives money to some, food to others,
writes letters and fills forms for those who cannot afford the
lawyers they need.
Nearly all are there for drug offences, and nearly all claim
innocence, but she says she is a realist and knows it is not
She knows that children can stray from an honest path, but has
no doubts about her son.
"If he was such a guy I would not have come here to live. I
would support him, but I would stay in France and send money."
What irks her about the Denpasar jail is that punishments are so
disproportionate to crimes and that prisoners all say they must pay
prosecutors to get their sentences reduced.
When her son was arrested, a French official told her it would
cost between 800,000 and 1 million French francs to secure a
sentence of about 15 years, a sum she declined to pay.
Her view is that public pressure has always been her son's best
hope and will be for Corby. The media coverage her son's case
received in France prompted the Government to negotiate a prisoner
exchange treaty with Indonesia, just as Corby's case has prompted
But Ms Le Touzey said the document is still not finalised after
two years and Corby will need to be patient. Because her son has
now completed five years in jail, he has been allowed to apply for
He is smiling now and touched with optimism because he hopes to
have his sentence converted to 20 years, reduced by time
Once that happens, and the agreement with France is finalised,
he should go home.
The belief that freedom will one day be possible is what Helene
Le Touzey says has got her and her son though the past five years
and what Corby too must learn to live for.
"Never give up; that's all we can do," she says.