Australia's police work abroad under spotlight with Indonesia executions

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The case of two Australians on death row in Indonesia has cast a spotlight on the foreign work of Australia's police force, whose tip off to their Indonesian counterparts a decade ago was key in their arrest and looming execution by firing squad.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, two Australians named as ringleaders of the "Bali Nine" drug-smuggling group, were arrested in 2005 at an airport on the island of Bali for trying to smuggle 8kg of heroin into Australia.

The two are expected to be executed as soon as Tuesday night alongside seven other inmates, despite fierce diplomatic lobbying. Eight of those facing execution are from Australia, Nigeria, Brazil and the Philippines.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has stood by its handling of the case, despite public outrage over its decision not to apprehend the nine members of the group in Australia, which does not have the death penalty.

But internal documents released this week under a Freedom of Information (FOI) request show that federal police did in fact institute significant changes to insure against a re-occurrence of a tip-off similar to that of the Bali case.

Since 2009 a federal minister has been required to sign off before sharing information with foreign agencies that might place Australians at risk of the death penalty, the documents show.

That information, alongside the looming executions of Chan and Sukumaran, has revived a debate about how the AFP can publicly maintain it did nothing wrong.

The AFP did not immediately respond to a request from Reuters for comment.

Last month, however, AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin told reporters that the agency did not "have blood on its hands" over the incident.

Lawyer Bob Myers, a family friend of Bali Nine convict Scott Rush, informed an AFP contact that Rush's father, Lee, was concerned that he might be involved in a smuggling plot.

Instead of handling it quietly as promised, he told Reuters, the AFP "acted like cowboys", tipping off the Indonesians. Rush, who was 19 at the time, had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment in 2011.

Mr Myers said that the documents show welcome cultural changes within the AFP, but expressed anger that they still refuse to admit their culpability.

"It's quite clear from their current actions ... that they would never ever do the same thing again," he said. "This was a deliberate act on the part of our own public servants, who are charged with protecting us, to effectively sacrifice them for reasons they won't concede."

The AFP generally enjoys a low profile, and the Indonesian case has served to shine an uncomfortable spotlight on how they operate, said Dr Damien Kingsbury, a professor of politics and international affairs at Deakin University.

Officially, the AFP has said it was concerned about escape if they did not move to apprehend the suspects in Indonesia. At the same time, Dr Kingsbury said, it may have been a quid pro quo with Indonesia to receive greater cooperation on counter-terrorism.

Regardless, the policy changes detailed in the new documents are an embarrassing public admission that the AFP was well aware of its mistake. "To use a colloquialism, they're covering their ass.

Clearly they recognise that a mistake was made, that there was an error of judgment in this process," Dr Kingsbury said. "They can't actually say it, because to say it is to admit culpability or liability."