x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Australia teenager convicted of carrying drugs in Bali returns home

Secrecy surrounds 14 year old's homecoming - but it is unclear whether it is for the sake of the boy's privacy or to protect an exclusive media deal.

SYDNEY // He hid his face behind a balaclava, dodged the media at the airport and returned home amid rumours of a six-figure interview deal.

But this was no run-of-the-mill celebrity - it was a 14-year-old Australian boy convicted of carrying drugs in Bali. He cannot legally be named.

The teenager, who lives on the Central Coast of New South Wales, north of Sydney, was found guilty 11 days ago and sentenced to two months in jail. Having been in custody since his arrest in October, during a family holiday on the Indonesian resort island, he became eligible for release on Sunday.

Touching down in Sydney yesterday after an overnight Virgin Australia flight from the Balinese capital, Denpasar, he was met by police officers who whisked him through airport formalities and out via a side exit - to the frustration of photographers and television film crews camped in the arrivals hall.

Another media contingent was waiting in Morisset Park, near the town of Newcastle, where the family's lakeside home had been concealed behind hessian screens. Witnesses said the boy sneaked into the house via a neighbour's property, accompanied by his father and two other people.

Whether the cloak-and-dagger behaviour was for the sake of his privacy - he wore the balaclava whenever he appeared in public in Bali - or to protect an exclusive media deal was not clear. Channel Nine, one of Australia's commercial television networks, which has been strongly rumoured for weeks to have struck a deal worth 300,000 Australian dollars (Dh1.1 million), denied it yesterday.

The relationship between the family and the media has appeared strained lately. On Sunday, as the teenager was being driven to Bali's main Kerobokan jail to complete paperwork before he could be deported, his father shoved a television journalist, then - leaning out of the van - hit a photographer with a stick.

The boy was arrested in Kuta, the island's main tourism enclave, on October 4 after buying 3.6 grams of marijuana from a street dealer.

While awaiting trial, he was held at Denpasar police headquarters, then at an immigration detention centre in Jimbaran, always accompanied by his parents.

His case prompted a flurry of diplomatic activity, with Australian officials lobbying their Indonesian counterparts on his behalf. And his kid-glove treatment was contrasted with that of dozens of Indonesian boys held in adult jails in Australia on people-smuggling charges.

Amelia Adams, an Australian television reporter who caught the same flight from Denpasar as the teenager, said he and his father appeared relaxed and happy on their way home. She told Fairfax Radio it was "the first time I've seen the father smile," adding that the boy spent the six-hour journey playing with his phone and watching a film.

His Indonesian lawyer, Mohammad Rifan, said the teenager wanted his experience to act as a warning to other Australians. Two young Australians are on death row in Kerobokan for trafficking drugs, while six others are serving life sentences.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae