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Sydney - An Australian media firm raided by police on Tuesday over a rumoured tell-all deal with paroled drug mule Schapelle Corby condemned the move as “disturbing”, “regrettable” and unjustified.
Seven West Media CEO Tim Worner confirmed that police descended on the offices of the company's Seven television network and Pacific Magazines to execute a “number of search warrants” related to Corby, who was released from prison in Indonesia last week after serving nine years for drug-smuggling.
Worner said the Australian Federal Police (AFP) raids, which also included the offices of Seven West's lawyers, came “as a surprise given we fully co-operated with requests made of us by the AFP last week”.
“The AFP has previously asked for information on Schapelle Corby and any contract we may have entered into, and we provided all the information requested from us and instructed our lawyers to provide any additional information they might have,” he said.
“The AFP did not seem to accept that we have not reached an agreement or understanding with Schapelle Corby.”
Worner said Seven West wished to emphasise that it had “responded fully and comprehensively to all requests for information,” and condemned as “regrettable” interference in “fair reporting and newsgathering”.
“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,” he said.
“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 organisation.”
Australian Federal Police confirmed they had “been in discussion with Channel 7 and their legal representatives regarding a proceeds of crime act matter since 11 February 2014” and rejected suggestions the raids had been heavy-handed.
“During these search warrants, AFP members behaved appropriately and in accordance with their responsibilities and legal obligations,” police said in a statement.
They said the warrants were carried out under national proceeds of crime legislation aimed at preventing a person “profit(ing) from their criminal notoriety.”
Under Australian law it is illegal to profit from a crime, even offences committed in other countries, and Prime Minister Tony Abbott has made clear that Corby should not be able to cash in.
“(The legislation) does not prevent a person from telling his or her story to the media. The provisions do not interfere with freedom of speech,” police said.
In 2011 the government went after former Guantanamo detainee David Hicks for proceeds of crime, attempting to seize the profits from his autobiography about his time in the US-run prison in Cuba.
It ultimately dropped the case in 2012.
Veteran Seven Network journalist Mike Willesee, who was in Bali holed up in the same villa as Corby and her entourage following her parole, earlier said the police “will find nothing”.
“We've positioned ourselves to be the first in line if there is an interview. There is no deal,” he said, insisting that “no payment” had been made to Corby and rumours of multimillion-dollar figures were a “lie”.
There has been rampant speculation in Australia that Seven and Pacific Magazines, publisher of popular gossip title New Idea, have joined forces to offer a seven-figure deal to Corby.
Indonesian officials have warned Corby, whose case has been the subject of huge fascination in Australia since her 2004 arrest in Bali, that doing such an interview could be a breach of her parole terms. - Sapa-AFP