Fourth Briton Jailed In Bali Over Cocaine

by
staff
A British man arrested in connection with a drugs trafficking ring on the Indonesian resort island of Bali was Tuesday sentenced to six years in jail for possession of cocaine.

drugs

A British man arrested in connection with a drugs trafficking ring on the Indonesian resort island of Bali was Tuesday sentenced to six years in jail for possession of cocaine.

Julian Ponder, 43, is among four Britons arrested on drugs charges last year including Lindsay Sandiford, a grandmother who was sentenced to death last week for her part in what authorities said was a "huge international syndicate".

Presiding judge Gunawan Tri Budiono told Bali's Denpasar court that Ponder was guilty of possessing 23.04 grams (0.8 ounces) of cocaine with a street value of $6,000, found in the bedroom of his luxury Bali villa.

"The defendant has been proven legally and convincingly guilty of committing a crime of drug possession," he said, adding that in addition to the jail term Ponder was fined 1.0 billion rupiah ($103,000).

The sentence was lighter than the seven years' jail recommended by prosecutors. Judges are not obliged to follow the guideline and Sandiford was sentenced to death despite a recommendation of a 15-year jail term.

Ponder was arrested after receiving a package from Sandiford in a police sting mounted after she was caught with five kilos (11 pounds) of cocaine hidden in her suitcase on a flight from Bangkok to Bali in May.

He was initially also accused of trafficking over the $2.4 million drugs haul, but earlier this month prosecutors dropped the more serious charge.

Defence lawyer Arie Budiman Soenardi told reporters after the trial that he would advise Ponder not to appeal against the sentence on the possession charge which under Indonesian law is punishable by life imprisonment.

"(The sentence) is quite light, not far from what the prosecutors had asked, so we will soon advise our client to accept it," he said.

Another judge on the three-man panel, Anak Agung Anom Wirakanta, admonished Ponder for contravening the government's anti-narcotics efforts, but noted that he had "confessed to his crime and apologised to Indonesians".

Ponder, dressed in a long-sleeved white shirt and black jeans, appeared tense during the trial but visibly relaxed after the verdict was read out, his shoulders dropping in relief.

He refused to comment on the court's decision but only said: "I've got to consult my lawyer, thank you" to the reporters who swarmed around him.

Ponder, from Brighton in England, was the last of the four Britons arrested in connection with the drugs haul to face a verdict and sentence.

Rachel Dougall, with whom Ponder had a six-year-old daughter, was sentenced to one year in jail for failing to report Ponder's crime and Paul Beales received four years for possession of 3.6 grams of hashish.

Like Ponder, both were cleared of drug trafficking.

However Sandiford, 56, was sentenced last Tuesday to death by firing squad. The authorities said she was at the centre of the drugs ring but she argued that she was coerced and faced threats that her children would be harmed.

Sandiford is appealing against the sentence. British rights group Reprieve said Sunday that she is also suing the British government for allegedly failing to support her appeal against the death penalty.

Indonesia enforces stiff penalties for drug trafficking, but death penalty sentences are commonly commuted to long jail sentences.

According to prison authorities there are 36 foreigners and 56 Indonesians on death row in Indonesia.

Sandiford is the second Briton to be sentenced to death on drugs charges in Indonesia in recent months, after Gareth Cashmore was found guilty in the capital Jakarta last October.

Narcotics officials say drug syndicates now prefer to use Western drug mules who can better blend in with the millions of arrivals at Bali's international airport and evade police detection.

The last execution of a foreigner was in June 2008, when two Nigerian drug traffickers were shot.