Corby's web of donors
EXCLUSIVE Eamonn Duff
December 18, 2011
WEBSITES dedicated to the convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby are being used to legally solicit cash donations from the public without scrutiny.
When media deals and book royalties are added to their sizeable defamation payout from Channel Seven, the Corby clan has amassed an estimated $3 million since Corby's arrest in 2004. However, it would appear the money is still not enough to cover Corby's expenses, with one website promoting a ''trust fund'' that transfers public donations into a bank account operated by her mother, Rosleigh Rose.
In recent months, the sites have been the subject of growing discussion on internet forums, where some bloggers have raised questions about the regulatory requirements and audit protocols for such donations.
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While none of the Schapelle Corby-related websites is authorised or licensed to collect funds as a charity, the Queensland Office of Fair Trading has deemed them ''technically legal'' - because they have never officially been promoted as ''charities''.
A Fair Trading spokeswoman said: ''Under the Queensland Collections Act, it is an offence to conduct appeals for charitable purposes or for community purposes without proper authorisation.'' The sites do not employ the specific words ''charity'' or ''community purposes'', so they ''fall outside'' Fair Trading's jurisdiction, the spokeswoman said. But she added: ''These organisations are not collecting money with the endorsement of the state government.''
Corby, from Queensland's Gold Coast, was sentenced to 20 years' jail after she was caught at Bali's international airport in October 2004 with 4.2 kilograms of marijuana in her boogie board bag. Since then, an industry has flourished around her captivity, including several websites that use her name to solicit donations.
Riding on the back of Corby's 2008 book, My Story, the Free Schapelle Corby website invites readers to donate money to a ''trust fund'', telling prospective donors that money is required to help with ''ongoing costs to maintain vital daily supplies to Schapelle'', including clothing, personal items, medicine, food and legal fees. Donors are invited to make recurring payments to the fund by selecting a range of options, from $2.50 to $50 a month.
The Sun-Herald has found those donations roll into a standard Commonwealth Bank account opened under the name ''J Rose for Schapelle Corby'', at a branch in Browns Plains, Queensland. The website states that Ms Rose established a trust account for family and friends to provide practical support to Corby. It also stresses that, while the family ''have never asked for public donations'', they are ''sincerely grateful'' for the assistance offered.
Neville Wright, a Corby supporter, registered the website's domain name and is the administrator of all funds that come and go from the Free Schapelle Corby site. There is no online facility that allows donors to keep track of how much has been raised, or where it has been forwarded. But Mr Wright said: ''All donations are moved regularly into the trust account which, like all trust accounts, would be audited by auditors appointed by the trust managers [Ms Rose]. I do not believe you can get much more transparent than that.''
Aside from soliciting donations for Corby's trust fund, Mr Wright also encourages supporters to donate to his own separate ''fighting fund'', which covers his ''ongoing costs'' such as press releases, advertising, promotions, printing, mailing and website support, telling them: ''It's your choice.''
In recent months, a third account has emerged on a separate website with donors encouraged to pay into ''The SchapelleGate Fighting Fund''.
Claiming that Corby is an ''innocent victim'' of ''Australian corruption which reaches to the heart of government itself'', conspiracy theorist website ''Expendables'' is canvassing public assistance so it can spread a tale of ''injustice'' through DVDs and newspaper advertisements. The site, which claims to be run by anonymous ''regular people from North America and Europe who ran into this story'', states if any cash is left over, it ''will be donated to Schapelle's trust fund''. Repeated attempts to reach Ms Rose for comment were unsuccessful.
While it remains unclear how much money has been collected, it has done little for Corby, 34, who is about to spend her eighth Christmas behind bars in Bali. A regular visitor to Kerobokan said Corby had slowly isolated herself from most around her. ''Schapelle is unpopular at Kerobokan with all but a few in her cell block - who curry favour with her for a share of the goodies that come from her family and supporters.''
$80,000 Fee paid by Channel Nine for exclusive family interview immediately after Schapelle was found guilty in May 2005.
$350,000 Advance payment from Pan Macmillan for rights to publish Schapelle’s book in November 2006.
$110,000 Sum paid by The Australian Women’s Weekly for book extracts that same year.
$2 million The defamation settlement believed to have been paid by Channel Seven to Mercedes Corby in 2008.
$50,000 Earned by Mercedes when she stripped for Ralph magazine, also in 2008.
$100,000 Rumoured figure paid by New Idea magazine in 2009 for an exclusive series of pro-Corby cover stories.
Eamonn Duff is the author of the Corby book Sins of the Father.