Aussie 'flag trunk' revellers get off scot free

Nine Australians, who undressed and posed with underwear with the colours of the Malaysian flag at Sepang circuit, arrive at the Sepang Magistrate Court at Sepang, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Oct 6, 2016.
Nine Australians, who undressed and posed with underwear with the colours of the Malaysian flag at Sepang circuit, arrive at the Sepang Magistrate Court at Sepang, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Oct 6, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

SEPANG • Nine Australian men who had provoked anger in Malaysia by donning skimpy swimwear bearing the country's national flag at a Formula One race were let off with no charges yesterday.

Four days after their arrest, the nine racing fans were taken to a Malaysian court to face potential charges of public indecency and national insult.

But after expressing remorse - and receiving a dressing-down by a judge - they were released without charge.

The stunt by the nine men - who were celebrating countryman Daniel Ricciardo's Malaysia Grand Prix win on Sunday - offended some Malaysians and sparked a debate back home over boorish behaviour abroad by Australian sports fans.

The detainees, all in their 20s, were dubbed the "Budgie Nine" by the Australian media, a reference to their Speedo-style swimming trunks, known colloquially in Australia as "budgie smugglers".

A budgie, short for budgerigar, is an Australian parakeet. The close-fitting swimwear is so named for leaving little to the imagination.

"Your conduct on Oct 2 was totally inappropriate by dressing down to your swimming trunks," Judge Harith Sham Mohamad Yasin told them.

"It hurt the feelings of all Malaysians to display the flag in such a manner."

But he took into account their youth, expressions of remorse, and the fact they had already been held since Sunday.

"I hereby caution and discharge all of you," he said.

While many in Muslim-majority Malaysia laughed the episode off, some called for jail terms.

Red Bull driver Ricciardo, however, came to his fans' defence in comments published yesterday by Sydney's Daily Telegraph before the court appearance, calling the stunt "pretty harmless".

"In Australia it's a bit different but I'm very sure they didn't intend to offend anyone," he said.

But Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Wednesday chastised the men.

"What might be seen as a foolish prank or Aussie 'blokey' behaviour in Australia can be seen very differently in another country," she told Channel Nine.

"You have to respect the laws of the country you are visiting."

The defendants had arrived at a courthouse in the town of Sepang, near the race circuit, yesterday morning in handcuffs, dressed in suits and looking sombre.

There had been speculation that they could face fines for indecency, causing a public nuisance or disrespecting Malaysia's flag, the last of which can also include a jail term of up to six months.

Foreign offenders accused of indecency in Malaysia are typically slapped with a fine before being deported.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2016, with the headline 'Aussie 'flag trunk' revellers get off scot free'. Print Edition | Subscribe