Australia’s federal law enforcement arm has apologized for raiding the offices of a national television broadcaster over the channel’s attempt to interview a convicted drug smuggler.
On Tuesday, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) raided the Sydney offices of Channel Seven amid rumors that the network had paid $2.3 million AUS ($1.7 million USD) for the exclusive rights to an interview with Schapelle Corby, a drug trafficker who was recently released on parole.
While “checkbook journalism” — paying for an interview — is not a legal offense in Australia, it is an offense to benefit from the commission of a crime. Channel Seven, which has repeatedly denied securing a deal for Corby’s interview, says it was stunned by last week’s raid as it has been cooperating with authorities under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
“We fully cooperated with requests made of us by the AFP last week including ongoing correspondence between the AFP and our lawyers,” Tim Worner, the CEO of Channel Seven’s parent company, said on Tuesday. “The AFP did not seem to accept that we have not reached an agreement or understanding with Schapelle Corby.”
On Friday, the AFP admitted the raid was a mistake, triggered by a “word-processing error.”
“The AFP accepts that [the warrant] was incorrect and it should not have been made,” the agency said in a letter sent to Channel Seven’s lawyers, adding that it regretted any “hurt, embarrassment or offense which this error has caused.”
Despite the error, the AFP says the search warrants against Channel Seven are not invalidated. The network maintains that its dealings with Corby does not violate the law, though it acknowledges that proceeds paid to Corby in exchange for an interview could potentially be seized by police.
Corby was convicted nearly a decade ago of smuggling nine pounds of marijuana through Bali’s Denpasar International Airport. Despite her conviction, Corby maintained her innocence; her lawyers argued that the drugs were planted on her, possibly by airline employees. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison, angering many Australians who sympathized with her.
Corby’s case has drummed up interest in Australia — there’s been a television movie on her case, multiple books and now purported interview deals — making her the Australian equivalent of Casey Anthony or Justin Bieber. She is currently holed up in a luxury villa in the resort town of Seminyak, where it is believed her first television interview will take place.