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Archive for November, 2011

Six inmates in freedom bid 95 kilometres off coast of Mexico

Six inmates have been recaptured after a daring escape from an island penal colony off Mexico that was like a replica of the 1973 film Papillon, starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.

The prisoners were fleeing from Islas Marias, home to the last island penal colony in the Americas, and attempted to swim to freedom using an assortment of empty plastic containers to keep themselves afloat in the Pacific.

They made it 95 kilometres before being spotted by a passing boat. A Mexican naval unit was tipped off and water patrol vessels were dispatched to fish the men out of the water and take them back to the colony to face yet more time in the colony.

Hit film ... Steve McQueen, left, and Dustin Hoffman starred in Papillon.
Hit film … Steve McQueen, left, and Dustin Hoffman starred in Papillon. Photo: AP


Photographs released by the Mexican navy showed them topless and sunburnt.

The penal colony is 110 kilometres from the coast of Mexico at the shortest crossing point, but instead of heading due east the group swam south into open water.

Maybe they wanted to swim to Australia and become the new boat people without a boat.

It is thought they were either dragged by currents, or were heading for the resort of Puerto Vallarta further down the coast [or Australia]. They were 90 kilometres from Puerto Vallarta when found.

The penal colony was founded in 1905 and was intended to be an escape-proof prison, using the Pacific as a security barrier. The colony was taken out of use in the 1990s during a modernisation programme.

But due to overcrowding elsewhere, in 2004 it was reopened and hundreds of inmates from across Mexico were transferred there.

Over 1000 inmates are held at the facility. They are not normally locked up and reside in small houses, tending gardens and growing their own food.

The escapees, who ranged in age from 28 to 39, were taken by boat to Puerto Vallarta to be medically checked and were deemed to be in good health.

Mexico’s interior department said they would be returned to the penal colony ” in a matter of hours”.

Papillon was based on the memoir of the killer Henri Charriere and tells the story of an escape from a penal colony in French Guiana.

A Sydney student has been found guilty of murdering his mother’s lover in what has been described as an honour killing.

In a unanimous decision this morning after a week of deliberations, a jury convicted Andrew Iskandar, 21, but found him not guilty to a charge of soliciting a prisoner to murder a key witness in the trial.

Iskandar had denied murdering Mohd Shah Saemin, 43, outside his flat at Leichhardt, in Sydney’s inner west, about midnight on February 21 last year.

Andrew Iskandar's mother,  Nita Iskandar, has denied being an accessory by helping her son leave the country following the murder of Mohd Saemin, inset.

Andrew Iskandar’s mother, Nita Iskandar, has denied being an accessory by helping her son exit the country following the murder of Mohd Saemin, inset. Photo: Domino Postiglione

The trial was told how the victim, a driver for the Malaysian consulate, was bashed repeatedly with a hammer “like a piece of meat”.

Iskandar set out to murder Mr Saemin after his mother, Nita Iskandar, began an affair with him, which became a talking point within Sydney’s Indonesian community.

Iskandar told the NSW Supreme Court jury he used a hammer in self-defence after Mr Saemin attacked him and his father. He denied planning the killing or knowing beforehand about his mother’s affair with Mr Saemin.

The jury has not yet reached a verdict on Nita Iskandar.

She is accused of being an accessory after the fact, allegedly helping her son flee to Singapore after the murder.

The jury were instructed by Judge David Davies to continue deliberations.

Sentencing submissions for Andrew Iskandar will be heard on February 2.



The Australian Capital Territory Government in Australia wants to introduce a tattooing service for prisoners at the territory’s jail.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher says the use of makeshift, contraband tattoo guns and needles by prisoners could be a greater infection risk at the jail than intravenous drug use.

Ms Gallagher said she believed a safe, professional tattooing service could be more effective in stopping the spread of blood-borne disease at the Alexander Maconochie Centre than the stalled needle-and-syringe program.

Determined opposition by the prison’s guards and their union, the CPSU, has blocked a needle exchange system at the jail, but Ms Gallagher said yesterday she had not given up on efforts to control blood-borne diseases at the AMC.

The union cautiously welcomed the safe tattooing plan yesterday and suggested it could be extended to provide a safe body-piercing service.

Ms Gallagher said that a safe, professional tattoo service would be part of the solution but she also flagged moves to make prison staff more accountable in the control of blood-borne viruses among inmates.

The Government cites reports by prisons expert Keith Hamburger, virology research centre the Burnett Institute and former health minister Michael Moore that all recommended a safe tattooing facility to control the spread of HIV and hepatitis.

The Burnett report found that 40per cent of the prison’s tattooed inmates had been given some of their tattoos by fellow inmates while behind bars.

Ms Gallagher, who is also Health Minister, told The Canberra Times that it was time to do someting about it.

”We know there are tattoo guns, some have been confiscated,” she said. ”We know that the dirty needles often used for tattoos transmit blood-borne viruses and we know that the rates of those viruses are very high in the jail.

”It’s not the only answer but it could be part of the solution.”

There were issues to be managed, Ms Gallagher said, such as who would operate the service, whether it would be free and the problem of prisoners using tattoos to identify themselves as gang members.


SHE lured policemen into her bed, then calmly pumped bullets into their colleagues, quickly rising to the top of the most wanted list of ETA terrorists. But the femme fatale known as La Tigresa – The Tigress – has gone from Basque separatist heroine to persona non grata.

After finally being captured and jailed, Idoia Lopez Riano renounced violence and apologised for her crimes – and as a result has been cast out by her former comrades.

Lopez, 49, assassinated 23 people as one of the leading commandos in the violent campaign for Basque independence during the 1980s. She was a lieutenant in the Madrid cell that in 1986 exploded a bomb in the Plaza Republica Dominicana that killed 12 Civil Guards, and another that killed five more later that year. Lopez was also blamed for shooting policemen as well as four soldiers and making an attempt to kill a high court judge.

She was captured in France and in 2003 sentenced to more than 1500 years in prison for her crimes, even though under Spanish law the maximum sentence is set at 30 years. However, despite becoming one of Spain’s most notorious terrorists, Lopez’s name no longer appears on the roll-call of ETA prisoners given to the group’s supporters.

Instead, she has become the latest prisoner to be expelled from ETA after condemning the use of violence and apologising to relatives of her victims.

The so-called Basque Political Prisoners Group dropped her name from its list for ”breaking with discipline”.

Earlier this year she signed a statement rejecting ETA’s strategy for violence and asked for forgiveness from the murdered men’s families.

It is believed that she may be one of the few prisoners who have agreed to participate in a ”program of reconciliation” in which victims come face to face with ETA prisoners.

Inclusion on the list of more than 700 ETA prisoners entitles the families of the inmates to financial support and ensures special privileges between members inside prison.

Banished prisoners are shunned by fellow ETA inmates and their families ignored.

Lopez was one of ETA’s most revered leaders, but her bedroom antics reportedly annoyed fellow militants. She allegedly could not resist seducing policemen before planned attacks and once slept with a road traffic officer after he stopped to help her change a tyre


Police have charged a man over a suitcase allegedly stuffed with $1 million in cash after it being left in a Sydney cafe this week.

The man, a 49-year-old Chinese national from Hong Kong, was in Concord Hospital suffering from an undisclosed illness after he was detained by police on Tuesday afternoon.

He allegedly carried the black, unlocked suitcase, filled with Australian banknotes reportedly amounting to about $1 million, into Caffe Marco in Burwood at 8am on Tuesday.

He allegedly walked out of the outlet only a few minutes later.

Ashfield police saw him in Summer Hill some hours later and took him to Burwood police station, where he allegedly assaulted three officers.

The officers suffered minor injuries, police said.

The man was released by the hospital yesterday and charged with goods in custody, dealing with the proceeds of crime over $100,000, dealing with property suspected to be the proceeds of crime and assaulting police.

He was refused bail and will appear at Burwood Local Court today.

Earlier, police alleged the money was linked to  criminal activities, although they could not say which one, Inspector David Cottee of the Burwood Local Area Command said.

The cash was banked in a police bank account at one of the big four banks immediately after it was found.

“There’s no piles of cash sitting around in the police station,” Inspector Cottee said.

“It went straight to the bank and the bank provided us with a money-counting machine and a teller and kept it open until they were able to count and verify it.”

Two men, arrested by police at Central Station in April with $2 million in cash in two suitcases, pleaded guilty to dealing with property suspected to be the proceeds of crime.

Li Wang, 26, and Yu Xiang, 25, will be sentenced next month.


Accused … Mohammad Shafia, left, with his son Hamed, in the dark blue shirt, and Mohammed Shafia’s second wife Tooba Mahommad Yahya. Photo: AP

A father aadmitted to the “honour killings” of four family members – including his three teenage daughters – was recorded on police wiretaps saying he was “happy” they were dead and that he would “do the same again”, a Canadian court has heard.

Mohammad Shafia, 58, his second wife Tooba Mahommad Yahya, 41, and their son Hamed, 20, are on trial for the first-degree murder of Zainab Shafia, 19, Sahar Shafia, 17, Geeti Shafia, 13, and his first wife Rona Amir Mohammad, 50, in 2009.

Prosecutors told the Ontario court their deaths were “honour killings” committed to remove the perceived shame the women brought on their family, such as by having boyfriends.

Zainab Shafia ... dead at 19.
Zainab Shafia … dead at 19.


They were arrested after a car was discovered submerged in a canal lock near Kingston in June 2009, with the bodies of the four family members in it. A post-mortem examination indicated they died of drowning.

The Shafia family previously lived in Australia, Pakistan and Dubai before moving to Ontario in 2007.

‘Do the same again’

Dead ... Geeti Shafia.
Dead … Geeti Shafia.


“I say to myself, ‘You did well.’ Would they come back to life a hundred times for you to do the same again?” Mohammad Shafia was recorded as saying to Yahya after she appeared to express some remorse about the deaths of the two younger girls a few days after they drowned.

“No, Tooba, they were treacherous,” he said, the Vancouver Sun reported.

“They were treacherous. They betrayed both themselves and us. Like this woman standing on the side of the road and if you stop the car, she would go with you anywhere. … They’re gone now; shit on their graves.”

First wife ... Rona Amir Mohammad.
First wife … Rona Amir Mohammad.


He added the next day: “I am happy and my conscience is clear. … They haven’t done good and God punished them,” the Montreal Gazette reported.

In other recordings, Mohammad Shafia told Yahya and Hamed to remain strong and that “there is nothing more valuable than our honour”, the Gazette said.

“I am telling your mother that be like a man as you have always been. I know it hurts … don’t worry at all, don’t regret,” he said, adding, “there is no value of life without honour”.


The court heard that Mohammad Shafia married Yahya as Rona Amir Mohammad was unable to bear children. The trio lived in a polygamous relationship,

The Canadian Press reported.

The court also heard the eldest daughter, Zainab, had ran away from home for a few weeks and the two other girls contacted officials appealing to be removed from their home because of domestic violence.

Face life in prison

If convicted, the trio face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Canada has seen 13 such similar killings since 2002 according to Amin Muhammed, a psychiatry professor at Memorial University in Saint John’s, Newfoundland.

On the morning of the deaths, a car was discovered submerged underwater at the upper lock at Kingston Mills with the four bodies inside.

The accused immediately went to police to report them missing and said the family stopped at a Kingston motel late at night to rest on their way home to Montreal from a vacation in Niagara Falls.

Shafia told authorities his eldest daughter Zainab must have taken the car without his permission and crashed it into the canal, but an investigation would later reveal he told witnesses he planned to kill her.

Prosecutors said according to mobile phone records, his son Hamed appeared to scope out the Kingston area days before the family arrived.

They also say he researched bodies of water in the Montreal, Ottawa and Kingston areas in the days leading up to the deaths.

The youngest was killed for wearing revealing attire, despite having warned school officials and police of abuse in the home, Prosecutor Laurie Lacelle told the court.

The trial, which started late last month, was expected to last up to three months, with dozens of witnesses scheduled to be called to testify. and AFP


A Perth drug dealer murdered a man who called him a dog and owed him less than $1000 by shooting him in the head at close range, a Perth court has heard.

The 33-year-old accused man cannot be named for legal reasons but is standing trial in the WA Supreme Court accused of murdering 39-year-old Mario Perrin.

In his opening address, prosecutor Justin Whalley said the accused man shot Mr Perrin in the head at his Dianella home, in Perth’s north, in October last year over a drug debt.

Mr Whalley said the accused first visited Mr Perrin’s house on October 18 and smashed the door open to steal some items, including two ornamental swords and a television projector.  But the accused did not think that was enough to settle the debt, he said.

The accused and Mr Perrin then exchanged a series of text messages and agreed to meet at Mr Perrin’s house on October 23.

Mr Whalley said the pair shared a “simmering mutual hostility” and that during their heated text messages Mr Perrin signed his own death warrant by calling the accused a dog.

The accused went to the house armed with a gun and a friend named Chad John James, Mr Whalley said.

Mr Perrin had his two brothers and a nephew with him at the house in case the situation escalated, but they were in another room and did not witness the shooting

Mr Whalley said the accused fired at least three shots, including one at close range to Mr Perrin’s head, before fleeing.

Mr Perrin died in hospital about 1am on October 24.

The accused turned himself in to police on October 26 while Mr James was apprehended by police a few weeks later but was not charged.

However, the accused’s lawyer, Colin Lovitt, argued Mr James told a lawyer he had fired the shots.

He said Mr Perrin and his relatives, who were armed with hammers and baseball bats, had planned to ambush the accused once he was inside the house.

Mr Lovitt told the jury they should put aside any pre-conceived notions about his client and others involved in the case, most of whom were known drug users.

He said it was easy to assume a drug dealer would be guilty of such a crime, but told the jury they should listen to all the evidence before jumping to conclusions.

The jury trial has been set down for around mid December 2011



A man has been threatened by a robber who stole his purple Harley Davidson while he sat in Sydney traffic, in what police describe as a rare and brazen theft.

The motorcyclist was riding on Bernera Road, Prestons, when he stopped at a red light at the intersection of Yarrunga Street about 3.30pm yesterday. 13th Nov 2011

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The victim said he felt something being pressed into his back as a threat was made.

The man got off his bike and the thief got on and rode off along Camden Valley Way, police said.

Green Valley duty officer acting Inspector Paul Kremer said no weapon was seen during the theft.

“He just assumed that it would be there because of the threat that was made,” he said.

Acting Inspector Kremer said he was unable to elaborate on what the threat was or the exact details of how the theft unfolded.

He said this type of robbery was quite different

“It’s very rare, based on my experience. Certainly, it’s the first of this type of incident we’ve had in this area.

“Especially with a line of traffic behind you, it’s pretty brazen.”

The man, who was not injured, called police soon after his motorbike was stolen.

The bike is described as a purple 1994 Springer Harley Davidson.

Anyone who saw the incident or has seen the bike is asked to phone Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.


Walter Marsh, a US citizen slashes throat of Australian nurse

Former US marine Walter Marsh has been found guilty of the murder of Sydney nurse manager Michelle Beets.

A Supreme Court jury found the 51-year-old American citizen guilty of cutting Ms Beets’s throat & stabbing her to death in April 2010.

After the verdict was handed down, people in the public gallery applauded, causing Justice Derek Price to say there should be no further outbursts in the court.

Walter Marsh ... on trial for six weeks for the murder of Michelle Beets.
Walter Marsh … A six weeks trial for the murder of Michelle Beets.

Outwardly, Marsh appeared calm when the verdict was announced, taking a sip of water, removing his glasses and putting them in their case.

As he left the dock and began to go down the steps he gave a finger sign to the people in the public gallery.

Outside the court, Ms Beets’ long term partner, lawyer David Grant, said he was very relieved at the verdict.

Relieved at the verdict ...  David Grant, the partner of murder victim Michelle Beets.
Relieved at the verdict … David Grant, the partner of murder victim Michelle Beets. Photo: Wolter Peeters

“It has been a long hard 18 months for myself, Michelle’s family and friends,” he said.

There had been “a lot of tough times” but he had coped coming to the trial.

“She was well loved and continues to be,” he said. “I am going to go off and have a beer now and get on with my life.”

Ms Betts, 57,  was found lying in a pool of blood on the verandah of her Chatswood home, with eight stab wounds and deep slashes to her neck.

During the course of the six-week trial, the jury heard that Marsh meticulously planned the killing and used a special military throat-cutting technique on Ms Beets that was supposed to stop her from screaming as she was being butchered.

But his plans came undone when she saw Marsh coming, alerting neighbours and passersby with her shouts. They then saw a hooded Marsh fleeing the scene after the killing of Beets.

The former marine was motivated, the court heard, by a powerful resentment towards Ms Beets over her decision not to renew his contract as a nurse at Royal North Shore Hospital.

He also believed that Ms Beets had given him bad references and that this had prevented him from getting another job – something that threatened his working visa.

Among a powerful brief of evidence presented by the prosecution was testimony from Marsh’s wife who told the court that her husband had confessed to killing Ms Beets on the day it happened.

The public gallery burst into spontaneous applause after the jury foreman read the verdict, with Justice Derek Price ordering that there be “no more public outbursts”.

Marsh was impassive in the dock, looking at his lawyers and shrugging.

But as he turned and began the walk back down to the cells, he waved his finger at Ms Beets’s friends and family, a final act of defiance before he disappeared down the stairs.

Brother’s relief

Marty Beets, the brother of Michelle Beets, said he was “pleased and satisfied with the verdict”, but that there never would be complete closure for him and his family.

“It’s a relief that we get to know who is the murderer,” he said on the phone from New Zealand this afternoon.

“Unfortunately for other people [whose family members are killed], they may never know who the murderer is.

“And it’s a closure but it’s not because it will never be closed – every Christmas, every birthday, we will always remember her. She will always be in our lives.

“At least we know the correct person has been tried & convicted for the crime.”


An international sting has ended with the seizure of 300 kilograms of cocaine in Bundaberg and boxes of cash in Sydney  upwards of $3.5 million & still counting.

Four Spanish nationals have been arrested and Australian Federal Police assistant commissioner Kevin Zuccato, the national manager for serious and organised crime, said police believed one of them to be ‘‘very high up’’ in an international syndicate they had been  investigating since February this year.

Mr Zuccato said the cocaine has a wholesale value of $78 million, but on the street it would sell for ‘‘much, much more’’@ least double that amount

Cocaine found concealed in a suitcase inside the yacht.Cocaine found concealed in a suitcase inside the 16metre yacht.

Police estimated street value to be about $400 a gram, pushing the value of the 300 kilogram haul up to around $120 million.

‘‘There is certainly an appetite for cocaine,’’ Mr Zuccato said,

‘‘This shows it doesn’t matter where (criminals) go, or what they do, Australian law enforcement will catch up with them.’’

Australian Federal Police and Customs officers swoop on a boat at the Bundaberg Port Marina on Saturday morning, after about 90kg of cocaine was found in a car pulled over the night before.Australian Federal Police and Customs officers swoop on a boat at the Bundaberg Port Marina on Saturday morning, after about 90kg of cocaine was found in a car pulled over the night before. Photo: Max Fleet/Bundaberg News Mail

After the yacht was raided, police also launched weekend raids on a Gold Coast address, where they allegedly found $290,000 in cash, and a Sydney Bondi address where they found five boxes of cash that were still being counted. The current count is at about $3.5 million.

The nine-month operation began in February, when the AFP noticed large quantities of money being moved offshore and began a money laundering investigation.

The investigation, code-named Operation Avalon, eventually brought together the AFP, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the Queensland Police Service and authorities in Vanuatu.

The Friday Freedom was allegedly used in a drug smuggling operation.The yacht ‘Friday Freedom’ was allegedly used in a drug smuggling operation.

In September, the ACBPS flagged a yacht called Friday Freedom as a subject of interest, moored at Port Vila in Vanuatu and scheduled to sail to Australia. They believed the yacht had connections to a drug crime syndicate.

Mr Zuccato said Friday Freedom was sailed from Vanuatu to Australia by a 35-year-old man and a 37-year-old woman, who arrived in Bundaberg on October 20.

In a move he called ‘‘extremely patient’’, the yacht sat in the marina for three weeks before their partners in Sydney and Gold Coast made their move.

Cocaine concealed inside a suitcase.Cocaine concealed inside this suitcase.

‘‘An individual from Sydney received some information and decided they were ready to act,’’ Mr Zuccato said.

‘‘They had been communicating with the people on the boat moored in Bundaberg, three weeks is a long time to wait.

‘‘They were very patient.’’

Last Thursday, the 38-year-old man allegedly drove from Sydney to the Gold Coast where he stayed at the residence of a 39-year-old man at Surfers Paradise.

Mr Zuccato said they drove from the Gold Coast to Bundaberg the next morning and went on board the yacht.

The pair had hired a Corolla and a Pajero motor vehicle and allegedly left the boat with about 100 kilograms  of cocaine in two suitcases.

They loaded the suitcases into the cars and began to drive away.

‘‘That is when the decision was made to move in on them for security reasons,’’ Mr Zuccato said.

Police arrested the two men driving away and the two people on the Friday Freedom before they moved the yacht to a dry dock to be searched.

They allegedly found more cocaine, which had been wrapped in black tape and plastic to keep it dry and stored in the hull of the boat.

Mr Zuccato said police were interviewing the foursome and believed the 38-year-old to be a kingpin in the international crime syndicate.

‘‘This is really only the beginning of investigations,’’ he said.

Police believe the cocaine originated from South America and they are not sure where exactly where it was destined once it was taken off the yacht, but police believed it had no connection to Schoolies Week.

The cocaine will be forensically examined before being burnt in industrial incinerators.

‘‘This operation demonstrates that the AFP, with our international and domestic partners, has the capability, resources and commitment to successfully detect and dismantle the most sophisticated organised crime groups,’’ Mr Zuccato said.

‘‘The AFP seized 796 kilograms of cocaine last financial year, an increase of 103 per cent on the previous year.

‘‘As long as organised crime groups target Australia we will continue our efforts to disrupt their activities and arrest those who seek to bring harm to the Australian community.’’

The four Spanish nationals are scheduled to appear in Bundaberg Magistrates Court today to face charges relating to the import of a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug.

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