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AFP to help Indonesians in 'cyanide' case after death penalty taken off table

Justice Minister Michael Keenan's approval required for AFP to assist with possible death penalty case in Indonesia

Indonesia has guaranteed that an Australian permanent resident charged with murdering her friend with cyanide-laced coffee will not face the death penalty.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan has now agreed to the Australian Federal Police assisting with the case of 27-year-old Jessica Kumala Wongso, who allegedly poisoned her friend Wayan Mirna Salihin at an upmarket cafe in Central Jakarta in January.

The allegations have transfixed Indonesia.

Indonesian police sought assistance from the AFP because the 2 women had studied together at Billy Blue College of Design in Sydney and Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne.

Jakarta police chief Tito Karnavian last week flew to Australia where he met with Mr Keenan, who was required by law to personally sign off on the request.

A spokeswoman for Mr Keenan told Fairfax Media the minister agreed Australia would provide assistance in the investigation of the alleged murder in accordance with Australian law.

"The Indonesian government has given an assurance to the Australian government that the death penalty will not be sought nor carried out in relation to the alleged offending," she said.

Jakarta CID chief Krishna Murti told Fairfax Media the approval came after the Indonesian Attorney-General's Office guaranteed it would not seek the death penalty.

"Please note that the death penalty is the maximum sentence, it's reserved for extraordinary crimes only," he said. "After the guarantee, approval was given and now we have started cooperating with the AFP."

Under AFP guidelines on international police assistance in death penalty situations, ministerial approval is required if a person has been detained, arrested, charged or convicted of an offence that carries the death penalty.

The AFP faced criticism for handing over information to Indonesian authorities about the Bali 9, which led to their arrests for heroin smuggling in 2005. The coordinators of the Bali 9, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, were executed in Indonesia last year.

New guidelines for the AFP's role in cases involving the death penalty were introduced in 2009 after a federal court exonerated the AFP from acting unlawfully in the Bali 9 case but argued new protocols were needed.

Chief detective Krishna said police were investigating the interaction between Ms Wongso and Ms Salihin and their interactions with other people: "The case is now progressing and we are getting a flow of information in."

Jessica Wongso
Jessica Wongso
He said Ms Wongso, who worked for NSW Ambulance until late last year, was a permanent resident of Australia. "Therefore we stopped her from travelling back to Australia (in January). It would've been difficult if we had to extradite her back."

Ms Wongso and Ms Salihin met at Olivier Cafe in Grand Indonesia Shopping Mall on January 6.

Ms Salihin took a sip of the Vietnamese iced coffee, which Ms Wongso had reportedly ordered for her. She began to suffer convulsions and foam at the mouth and died on the way to the hospital.

A pretrial motion at which Ms Wongso's lawyer argued there was insufficient evidence to justify her ongoing detention is currently before the Central Jakarta District Court.

The court's ruling is expected to be handed down before March 2.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, February 27, 2016

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