A 'naive kid' pays the price for easy money
By Ellen Connolly and Jordan Baker
Top row, from left: Renae Lawrence, 27, Wallsend, Newcastle; Si Yi Chen, 20, Doonside, Sydney; Andrew Chan, 21, Enfield, Sydney
Second row, from left: Matthew James Norman, 18, Quakers Hill, Sydney; Martin Eric Stephens, 29, Towradgi, near Wollongong; Tach Duc Thanh Nguyen, 27, Brisbane
Last row, from left: Scott Anthony Rush, 19, Brisbane; Michael William Czugaj, 19, Brisbane; Myuran Sukumaran, 24, Auburn, Sydney
By all accounts, Renae Lawrence was desperate for money.
Her car had broken down two months ago and would cost at least $1000 to get back on the road. On top of that, she had car loan repayments and a mounting credit card debt.
After paying for food and rent, there was little money left over from her job at catering firm Eurest, at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
It was a chance meeting with a colleague, Andrew Chan - the alleged mastermind of a heroin smuggling operation - that could, she thought, solve all her money problems.
Ms Lawrence's father, Robert, said yesterday that she had been pretty desperate.
"She was upset when the car blew up. She was crying on the phone to her aunty wanting money," he said. "She was doing it tough. I don't think she's ever had a lot of money."
A Eurest source told The Age yesterday that Mr Chan was
offering his colleagues, including Ms Lawrence, free trips to Bali.
Whether Ms Lawrence knew the extent of what was involved in accepting the trip
is not known. But it seems she took up the offer.
So too did her two other colleagues (now co-accused) Matthew Norman, 18, of Quakers Hill, and Martin Stephens, 29, from Towradgi near Wollongong.
All four were employed as Bali and did they want to go," the Compass source said. "A few guys I know said no but obviously others did (want to go)." Police sources say Lawrence, Norman and Stephens were being paid $10,000 to carry the heroin, which had a street value of $4 million, into Australia.
According to Mr Lawrence, his daughter was naive and easily led. She had never left Australia before.
"Somebody has bought her a passport and the plane ticket," he said. "Maybe somebody offered this to her and said 'There's no risk' (and) not knowing what it involved or anything else she has gone along with it."
Word filtered back from Bali yesterday that Lawrence had tried to pull out of the drugs operation.
Mr Lawrence said his daughter had phoned her stepbrother after her arrest and explained that she had been forced to do the job. "She told Allan that if she did not do it there was going to be action taken against her family," he said.
"She is not 27 at heart. She's probably 15. She's just really gullible, naive and bloody stupid. She's not a bad kid. She's just got in with the wrong mob."
Compass general manager Richard Errington said he was shocked when he heard four employees had been arrested.
He said Lawrence had been a hard worker, mainly at Compass' Newcastle operation.
"Renae's worked, I know, in Newcastle for us and I know that she's worked in Sydney for us, and she's a very, very polite, shy, a very shy young woman that's an extremely hard worker," he told the ABC.
"I couldn't be any more shocked; words fail me, sorry."
He said the four held their jobs because their performance and punctuality were never in question.
Chan was a part-time cook at Sydney's Aussie Stadium and a "polite young fellow", he said. The other three worked in storerooms at various venues carrying out tasks such as driving forklifts and in unpacking and distribution roles.
"I knew Andrew (Chan) and Renae by face. You get to know most of your people by face and not by name," Mr Errington said.
Chan's sister said last night that the family was preparing to fly to Bali to support him. "We are just in the process of organising flights," she said.
Earlier his brother Michael asked the media to leave him alone while he sought legal advice. When asked how he felt, he replied: "Sad."
One of Chan's neighbours, in the Sydney suburb of Enfield, said she had known him since he was a young boy. "He was such a nice boy," said the woman, who did not want to be identified. "He was just like any ordinary boy."
His parents, Ken and Helen Chan, were "wonderful people" who had recently retired from running their restaurant and had been enjoying life after work, the neighbour said. "They're both in their 60s. It's a shame they've got to have this worry."
Former schoolmates and neighbours of Stephens described him yesterday as a "quiet kid".
"He was really a quiet guy who never hung out with anybody," one former school friend said. "I remember he was pretty smart. He never had dramas or anything at school."
One neighbour, told that Stephens was accused of smuggling heroin out of Bali, said "You're joking. I haven't seen him for a week or so. Now I know why."
His family are believed to have rushed to Bali to be by his side. "It's a shame. They're nice people," one neighbour said.
Norman lived at Quakers Hill with his single father and one of his sisters. They were not available for comment yesterday.
Neighbours said father and son would argue occasionally and the family had suffered a spate of break-ins a few years ago but were generally liked.
Jamal Lawson, who has known Norman since primary school and worked with him selling food at Aussie Stadium, was shocked to learn he had been accused of smuggling heroin.
Mr Lawson, who quit his job at Compass more than a year ago, said Norman had become more involved in work since leaving school in year 10.
He said he had known Norman was going on a holiday but did not know where.
He said drug smuggling was out of character for his friend, who enjoyed the odd drink, but would never touch heroin. "He was so withdrawn," Mr Lawson said. "I don't know how he got himself involved."
- With AAP, Megan Levy
Room 136: four guests, luggage and a police raid
By Matthew Moore Indonesia Correspondent Denpasar
The four Australians arrested at the Melasti bungalows on Bali's Kuta Beach had been in the hotel only five minutes when six police confronted them in their room.
According to two people at reception, Sri Desak and Ida Bagus Dalem, two taxis pulled up about 10.45pm on Sunday and four men in singlets and shorts asked for a room.
The hotel is popular with Australians. Ros Corby, the mother of Schapelle Corby, checked out just a couple of days earlier.
The group wanted only one room. A man Ms Desak described as of Indian or Nepalese appearance, whom police have identified as Myuran Sukumaran, said they wanted the room overnight to store luggage.
They would be gone in the morning, Sukumaran said, adding they would sleep at the Hard Rock Hotel where those arrested at the airport stayed.
Although the reception staff asked for all four passport numbers, only Si Yi Chen provided his, along with his address in Sydney's Doonside. He also provided his date of birth (March 19, 1985), which makes him 20.
He insisted one form would be enough, and the hotel staff eventually agreed.
The men settled on a price of $US50, including an extra bed in the twin room, No. 136, and paid the equivalent in rupiah.
Mr Dalem said there was nothing suspicious about the group. Within several minutes, two police arrived at reception and asked Mr Dalem where they could find the Australians who had just checked in. Once they knew the room, they called for reinforcements and more plainclothes officers arrived.
"They were looking for the Indian-looking man," Mr Dalem said.
The chief security officer, Rai Sidan, accompanied the police as a witness when they knocked on the door. The four young men appeared terrified, he said.
They opened their bags but no one admitted owning a locked, dark-coloured suitcase.
Police called one of the taxi drivers who brought them to the hotel and asked who had carried the bag from the cab.
"The group said they wanted the room overnight to store a large amount of luggage."
The driver pointed at Sukumaran. Chen, Matthew James Norman and Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen looked on as police forced open the lock.
Inside they found a clear plastic package with brown granular material, along with adhesive tape, scales and an athletic support bandage used by four of those accused at the airport of trying to smuggle drugs.
Police questioned the men until 3am and then handcuffed them and walked them to vans that took them to Denpasar's central police station where the five other suspects were held.
Michael William Czugaj and Scott Anthony Rush, both 19 and from Brisbane, Wollongong man Martin Eric Stephens, 29, and Newcastle woman Renae Lawrence, 27, were arrested at the airport. Indonesian police and the Australian Federal Police allege that packets containing heroin and weighing 10.9 kilograms were found strapped to their bodies.
A fifth person - Andrew Chan, 21, of Sydney - was arrested on an Australian Airlines plane. He had no drugs on his body.
Fast food workers who couldn't resist fast cash
By Matthew Moore in Denpasar, Ellen Connolly and Jordan Baker
By all accounts, Renae Lawrence was desperate for money.
Her car had broken down two months ago and to get it back on the road would cost her at least $1000. She needed it to drive between Sydney and Newcastle to visit her boyfriend. On top of that she had car loan repayments and a mounting credit card debt.
Lawrence worked at a catering firm, mainly at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and it was there that she found herself working with Andrew Chan, Matthew Norman and Martin Stephens. All four were arrested in Bali for heroin smuggling, along with five other young Australians - Michael Czugaj, Scott Rush, Tach Duc Thanh Nguyen, Myuran Sukumaran and Si Yi Chen.
According to Indonesian police, Chan, 21, is the ringleader. A man who has worked with him told the Herald through an intermediary that Chan appeared to use his contacts at the catering company to recruit young colleagues for trips to Bali. "He [Chan] was telling certain people he had free trips to Bali and did they want to go. A few guys I know said 'No' but obviously others did [go]," the man said.
Anggia Browne, the lawyer representing Lawrence and Stephens, said the drug mules were paid a relatively small amount of money - $10,000 to $15,000 - to traffick the heroin, which had a street value of $4 million. "Looks like they pick up [the drugs] because they are from poor or stupid families," she said. "They are only couriers. It's a stupid thing they do it for that money."
She said neither Lawrence nor Stephens, 29, from Towradgi near Wollongong, knew they could face the death penalty until she told them. "They could die now ... can you imagine for $15,000?"
Lawrence's father, Robert, said his daughter must have thought the money would solve all her problems. But he said she had called her step-brother, Allan, after her arrest and told him she had been forced into the operation. "She told Allan that if she did not do it there was going to be action taken against her family," he said.
"It surprises me that she would get involved in this but she was pretty desperate. She was upset when the car blew up. She was crying on the phone to her aunty wanting money. She was doing it tough. I don't think she's ever had a lot of money."
He said his daughter had never left Australia. "Somebody has bought her a passport and the plane ticket. Maybe somebody offered this to her and said, 'There's no risk'. Not knowing what it involved or anything else, she has gone along with it. She is not 27 at heart. She's probably 15. She's just really gullible, naive and bloody stupid. She's not a bad kid. She's just got in with the wrong mob."
Lawrence was arrested at the airport along with Stephens, Chan, Czugaj and Rush, both 19 and from Brisbane. Chan had no drugs on him but police say they found heroin strapped to the bodies of the others.
The other four, Nguyen, 22, from Brisbane, Norman, 18, from Quakers Hill, Sukumaran, 24, from Auburn, and Chen, 20, from Doonside, were arrested at a hotel in Kuta.
Jamal Lawson, who has known Norman since primary school, could not believe his friend would get involved in drug smuggling, even for the cash. He said drug smuggling was completely out of character - Norman enjoyed the odd drink but did not use pills or ever touch heroin.
Mr Lawson worked with Norman at Aussie Stadium several years ago selling food in the stands but had not seen much of him lately. He said Norman had become more involved in work since leaving school in year 10. "He was at work all the time."
He did know Norman was going on holiday but not where. "He was so withdrawn. I don't know how he got himself involved."
The "quiet man" tag was also attached to Martin Stephens, a 29-year-old from Towradgi near Wollongong. A former high school colleague described him as "a quiet guy who never hung out with anybody, just one of those nerdy guys ... I remember he was pretty smart, he never had dramas or anything at school".
A neighbour in Sturdee Street, where Stephens lived with his girlfriend, said: "You're joking. I haven't seem him for a week or so. Now I know why."
It is believed Stephens's parents have flown to Bali to be by his side.
In Brisbane, Nguyen's mother was distraught. "He never got into trouble before, I can't believe it," she said. "I think someone very bad [was involved]."
Nguyen's sister, Vanessa, said her brother had worked for the family's bakery business until it was sold recently and lived at home. He had not told anyone he was going to Bali. "We all thought he was just with his friends," she said.
And she was adamant: "He would never touch heroin."
Czugaj's family were also unaware their son was in Bali. He had told his parents he was going to Cairns on holiday.
His father, Steven, told Channel Nine's A Current Affair last night: "We didn't even know he had a passport. The kid's got no money ... this must have all been arranged, I don't know how or by whom. It's mind-boggling. We didn't know what was going on."
Czugaj's mother, Vicky, said that when she saw her son she would "just hug him".
"[I will] tell him that we love him and that we support him and we'll be there for him, and ask him, 'Why?' "
Mr and Mrs Czugaj, who have eight children, said their son had always been a "problem child".
"Wagging school and stuff like that, but never anything serious," Mrs Czugaj said. "I really don't know how he could be roped into doing something like that."
The couple said the news of their son's arrest had not really sunk in. "I have been watching the Corby thing and I have been thinking, 'Did she do it, didn't she?' " Mrs Czugaj said. "You have to have some sympathy for the kids being so young. Someone's obviously come up to them and said, 'Look, easy money, let's do it.' "
Richard Errington, the general manager of the food and beverage company Compass, said he was shocked when he heard of the arrests of his four employees, who worked frequently at Aussie Stadium and the SCG. "Renae was a quiet girl and very hard working. They all held their jobs because their performance and punctuality was never in question. I knew Andrew and Renae by face. You get to know most of your people by face and not by name."
Chan was a "polite young fellow" while Lawrence was shy. He could not believe they were involved in drug smuggling. "It has come as a shock."
Additional reporting by Jano Gibson, Megan Levy, Jacqueline Maley and AAP
I'm innocent, says Bali accused
THE man accused of being the "godfather" of an international drug trafficking ring says he had no idea that his friends were trying to smuggle drugs out of Bali.
"I think that's just full of shit," Andrew Chan said when reporters asked him to comment on the claims being made again him.
"Do you think I'm the godfather in this? Do I look the godfather? They didn't even find anything on me."
Andrew Chan, 21, of Sydney, was reading a newspaper aboard a Sydney-bound Australian Airlines flight when Indonesian police arrested him at Bali Airport on Sunday night.
He had no drugs on him.
His four travelling companions – Brisbane men Michael William Czugaj and Scott Anthony Rush, both 19, Wollongong man Martin Eric Stephens, 29, and Newcastle woman Renae Lawrence, 27 – were detained in the airport's boarding area with a total of 10.9kg of heroin allegedly strapped to their bodies.
Another four suspects – Brisbane man Tach Duc Thanh Nguyen, 27, along with Sydney men Myuran Sukumaran, 24, Si Yi Chen, 20, and Matthew James Norman, 18 – were arrested later a Bali hotel where more heroin allegedly was discovered.
Dressed in shorts, a T-shirt and hat, Mr Chan became emotional as he spoke to the media outside police headquarters in Denpasar today.
Mr Chan said he knew six of the other eight Australians arrested, but did not know any of them were planning on transporting drugs back to Sydney.
"I've got nothing to do with any of this. We came for a holiday and I did not know anything," he said, before passing on a message of love to his family and girlfriend.
"Tell them I'm innocent," he said.
Mr Chan was being escorted from a cell to an interrogation room along with two co-accused, Mr Rush and another who had a t-shirt over his head to hide his face.
Mr Rush was reluctant to speak, but nodded when asked if his capture was a mistake.
He also said he was not feeling well.
Shortly afterwards four others were led out to begin a questioning - a process that is expected to last months.
Mr Chan's lawyer Mohammad Rifan said he had explained the legal process to Mr Chan and his four other clients captured at the Melasti Hotel.
He said they were anxious, but glad to have legal representation.
Four Bali drug suspects to face lesser charges
The head of the Bali drug squad says four of the nine Australians arrested over heroin trafficking in Bali are unlikely to face charges that carry the death penalty.
Indonesian police initially declared they would seek death sentences for all nine.
Police have not laid formal charges but Bali's top drug detective, Bambang Sugiarto, has outlined how investigators have separated the nine suspects into two groups of likely defendants.
The first includes alleged ringleader, 21-year-old Sydney man Andrew Chan, and four others who were allegedly caught at Denpasar airport carrying the heroin strapped to their bodies.
That group will face the most serious trafficking charges that carry the penalty of life in prison or execution by firing squad.
Lesser charges are planned for the four remaining suspects arrested at a Kuta Beach hotel, allegedly with 350 grams of heroin.
Those four - Brisbane man Tach Duc Nguyen, along with Sydney men Myuran Sukum-aran, Si Yi Chen and Matthew Norman - are expected to be charged with heroin possession.
Police say heroin possession carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail.
Heroin on way to Australia: AFP
By Marian Carroll and Rob Taylor in Depasar
NINE Australians arrested in a Bali heroin bust will face a firing squad if convicted of trying to smuggle drugs out of Indonesia into Australia, the head of the island's police anti-drugs squad said today.
Australian consular officials said it was "by far" the largest number of drug-related detentions of Australians ever in Indonesia.
Indonesian investigators said a total of 11.25kg of heroin had been seized.
The Australians – eight men and one woman – were arrested by Indonesian authorities last night following an Australian Federal Police (AFP) operation dating back to February.
Five were arrested at Bali airport while waiting for a flight to Sydney.
Four were held at the departure lounge allegedly with bags of heroin strapped to their bodies, Colonel Bambang Sugiarto, the head of the island's police anti-drugs squad, said.
A fifth man – the alleged 21-year-old Sydney drug ring boss nicknamed the "Godfather" – was pulled off the Australian Airlines plane with no drugs and later protested his innocence when paraded before reporters.
"Whatever happened to Schapelle Corby happened to me," he said. "They are convicting me of something I didn't do."
Colonel Sugiarto said the case mirrored Ms Corby's marijuana trafficking case, but was potentially more serious.
"It involves exporting or importing drugs," he said. "If found guilty, death penalty."
The colonel said 10.9kg of heroin had been seized at the airport, and 350g was found at a hotel.
No charges have yet been laid.
Colonel Sugiarto said the police surveillance operation that led to the arrests had centred on three hotels, the beachfront Hard Rock resort and Ahdi Dharma in Kuta, and the Melasti Hotel in Tuban.
The four detained at the airport were allegedly found with plastic-wrapped packages of heroin – weighing between 2.4kg and 3.3kg – strapped to their legs and stomachs with brown masking tape.
The four allegedly carrying the drugs included two men from Brisbane, both aged 19, a 29-year-old man from Sydney and a 27-year-old woman from Sydney, according to reports.
Indonesian police said the woman had a drug package strapped under a dress.
Soon after, four other men were taken into custody at a Bali hotel – a 27-year-old Brisbane man, and three men from Sydney aged 18, 20 and 24, according to reports.
Colonel Sugiarto said one man had claimed prior to the search to have had a broken leg, which accounted for a bulge in his clothing.
But after questioning all allegedly confessed they had been carrying the drugs for their "boss".
Police then raided the Melasti Hotel and arrested another four people found with sandwich-sized blocks of heroin.
Traces of the drug were also found in two suitcases, police said, displaying a fake designer bag filled with rubber gloves and packaging.
Colonel Sugiarto said the heroin had come from the notorious Golden Triangle area in northern Thailand and Burma, and was being couriered through Bali to Australia by the Australians.
He said the gang had been acting "mysteriously and suspiciously" all week, staying in their hotel rooms and instructing hotel staff not to reveal their identities to anyone.
Police had not fingerprinted the drugs at the airport because the gang had been caught "red-handed", he said.
Police were still testing the drugs for strength.
Indonesia has increasingly become not only a transit route, but also a market for drug traffickers and courts across the country have passed a dozen death sentences on foreigners found guilty of serious drug offences in recent years.
At least 56 people are believed to be on death row.
The arrests come amid strains between Indonesia and Australia over the trial of Ms Corby, who claims she was set up as an unwitting courier for 4.1kg of marijuana.
Australian Government ministers have lobbied Indonesia to avert a death sentence for the 27-year-old former beauty student.
Indonesia's chief foreign affairs spokesman Marty Natalegawa said the latest drug bust would not threaten slowly improving diplomatic relations.
"This is clearly an issue of drugs and drug smuggling. There is no doubt that – Indonesians and Australians – we are all against that," he said.
AFP border and international network national manager Mike Phelan said investigations were also under way in Australia.
"Certainly we will be following up with the (Indonesian police) in terms of what information comes from investigations as they unfold over there in Indonesia, plus what we find here in Australia," Mr Phelan told ABC TV's 7.30 Report.
"We have executed a number of search warrants today in both Sydney and Brisbane, and we will certainly be looking through that information of the search warrants to see how the picture unfolds."
Families seek advice as Bali probe continues
Indonesian police have resumed their interrogation of nine Australians arrested in Bali on heroin trafficking charges as the suspects' families seek legal advice.
The families, which are based in Queensland and New South Wales, are still coming to grips with news of the arrests.
Friends and relatives of 21-year-old Andrew Chan had little to say to the media, who are camped outside their Sydney home.
"Andrew Chan has been like a son to me and we'll support him and the family and that's all we'll say," one unnamed friend told the waiting media.
An unnamed relative said: "Can you just leave me alone. I'm trying to organise some lawyers for my brother at the moment."
Some of the families have jointly hired a criminal defence lawyer.
The family of one of the men says the allegations of his involvement have left them in shock.
The man's younger sister says the first the family knew of events in Bali was when seven Australian Federal Police arrived at their home in Brisbane's south-east yesterday.
The woman, who wants to remain anonymous, says her brother had told his family he was holidaying in Sydney.
"How we found out was when the federal police came to conduct a raid," she said.
"Apparently we're supposed to get a call from the consulate or the embassy, but we still haven't heard from anyone, no official, no anything."
She says her brother has never been involved with drugs.
"I just can't see how he fits into this story because that's not his crowd," she said.
"He's not the type of person to hang around with drugs.
"He's really nice, down to earth. He's not pushy he's just him really."
The suspects were taken into custody on Sunday after a joint investigation with the Australian Federal Police.
Four of them were arrested at the international airport and are alleged to have had heroin packs strapped to their bodies.
The others were taken into custody at a hotel in Kuta.
The nine are being interrogated one-by-one by the Indonesian police.
The police are hoping to find out as much as they can about the history of the drugs, which they believe came from Burma originally.
They will also be asking questions about the complicity of anyone else who may have been involved but has not yet been arrested.
Under Indonesian law the nine can be held for 70 days without charges being laid.
The Federal Government says it will appeal for clemency if the nine face the death penalty.
However, it says there are few similarities between their case and that of accused marijuana smuggler Schapelle Corby, who is currently on trial in Bali.
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