28 June 2009

I'm a scapegoat, says accused Australian Angelita Pires

The Age (Melbourne, Australia) June 27, 2009 I'm a scapegoat, says accused Australian Miki Perkins - ANGELITA Pires says she is a scapegoat, an outspoken woman who fell in love with the wrong man and foul of a government struggling to regain authority after a period of bloody unrest.

East Timor's prosecutors allege she is the puppet master behind the near-fatal attack on President Jose Ramos Horta in 2008.

In July, the Timorese-born Australian will stand trial in Dili on 23 charges, including that she conspired with her lover, Alfredo Reinado, to kill Mr Ramos Horta.

But her Darwin lawyer, Jon Tippett, QC, says East Timor's justice system is a "bloody hopeless" mess, riddled with corruption and incapable of providing her - or anyone else - a fair trial.

His legal team has not had access to the 5000-document prosecution brief to prepare her defence, and proceedings have been muddied by reports that Mr Ramos Horta may offer amnesty to some of those allegedly involved in the attack.

Whether this will include Pires is unclear, but she has ruled out an appeal for clemency. "If I was to do a cheap deal, it would be letting people down - I want to let justice take its course, but it has to be in a court that is free from political influence," she said.

She has appealed to the international legal monitors and the United Nations to have a strong presence at her trial.

Mr Tippett, who is receiving funding from legal aid, said he had only been able to review about 150 of the 700-plus pages of forensic evidence held by Australian Federal Police.

East Timor's sluggish judicial system and a backlog of 4000 cases meant Pires and ordinary Timorese were not getting access to justice, he said. "The problem is that Australian people are pouring tens of millions into East Timor each year and into the UN effort and the legal system is just hopeless," he said.

"I think our Government is entitled to say to the East Timorese Government . . . we want some bang for our buck, we want to see an open, accountable legal system that is free of corruption and free of the impediments that it contains."

Sitting in a friend's home in Dili, Pires, 42, looked exhausted. She said she entered a "very dark place" after the shooting.

After Reinado's death, she miscarried a boy at five months and was unable to travel to Darwin for proper medical attention because authorities had seized her passport.

Pires and 27 men face charges over the attack, but there has been no direction as to how the unwieldy trial might be conducted.

She denies charges that she influenced Reinado to lead the early morning attacks on Mr Ramos Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

Mr Ramos Horta suffered serious gunshot wounds and was evacuated to Darwin.

Reinado was the leader of a band of soldiers sacked from the military after complaining of regional discrimination in promotions, sparking the 2006 Timor crisis when the country descended into violent chaos.

Ms Pires said the Government was looking for someone to blame for its failure to properly lead the Timorese people after the 2006 crisis.

"They have chosen me because I loved one man with all my heart who opposed them."

The AFP had not responded to Mr Tippett's claim before deadline.

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