Pubdate: Fri, 25 Nov 2005
Source: Australian, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2005sThe Australian
Author:  Michael McKenna and Alan Shadrake


THE lawyer for a German woman freed after facing execution in 
Singapore on drug charges has criticised Australia's last-ditch bid 
to save condemned Nguyen Tuong Van as too late.

Subhas Anandan, who represented Julia Suzanne Bohl - released earlier 
this year despite originally being charged with possession of a 
quantity of marijuana that would have brought the death penalty - 
said the flurry of activity by Australian authorities was "like 
visiting a dead person in hospital".

And he questioned why the Australian and Victorian governments would 
mount "such a diplomatic effort" on behalf of Van after he was 
convicted of heroin trafficking, rather than when he was first charged.

Van was arrested at Singapore's Changi Airport in December 2002 
carrying 396g of heroin. The death penalty is mandatory for more than 15g.

Mr Anandan's comments came as Bob Hawke made an appeal to Singaporean 
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, seeking his personal intervention to 
stop Van's execution next Friday.

The former Labor prime minister confirmed he had sought clemency for 
Van in a private letter to Mr Lee.

Mr Hawke was at the centre of the controversial capital punishment 
case in 1986 in which the Australian drug traffickers Kevin Barlow 
and Brian Chambers were sentenced to death in Malaysia. They were 
hanged anyway.

In Singapore, Van's Australian lawyers applied yesterday to 
authorities to witness his execution next week. "We owe it to him," 
said senior lawyer Lex Lasry QC.

The legal team has not given up hope of winning their fight for 
clemency, despite John Howard ruling it out.

Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls yesterday met the Senior 
Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs, Ho Peng Kee, to deliver a 
letter from Premier Steve Bracks seeking clemency. He too was told 
all avenues had been exhausted.

As Commonwealth leaders arrived in Malta last night for a three-day 
summit, Commonwealth secretary-general Don McKinnon played down the 
prospects of the Van case being debated at the executive sessions.

Asked for a personal view on Singapore's decision to hang Van, the 
New Zealander said it was "not appropriate at this time" to declare a 
position. But he said a number of Commonwealth countries allowed 
capital punishment.

Mr Anandan, president of the Singapore Criminal Lawyers Association, 
said the only chance of saving Van would have been before he went to 
trial, when prosecutors were finalising the charges and still had the 
prerogative to make changes.

"What is the point in coming in now?" he said. "The President has 
already refused clemency and the presiding judge in capital drug 
cases has no discretion. Death is mandatory. It is like visiting a 
patient in hospital when they are already dead."

Mr Anandan's German client, Ms Bohl, 23, was charged in March 2002 
with drug trafficking after police seized 687g of marijuana and other 
drugs from her Singapore apartment.

Under the city-state's sentencing laws, death is mandatory for anyone 
caught with 500g or more of the drug. Mr Anandan said the German 
ambassador and government immediately mounted a diplomatic campaign 
on behalf of the young woman, meeting several senior Singaporean ministers.

Within months, several charges were dropped and she escaped the 
gallows after the "pure" amount of drugs was found to be 281g.

Additional reporting: Brad Norington, Steve Lewis
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