By Harry Pearl
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby arrived in Australia on Sunday after completing a twelve-and-a-half-year sentence for smuggling marijuana to Indonesia, a case which received huge media attention and soured ties between the two countries.
Corby landed at Brisbane International Airport with her sister Mercedes Corby and a bodyguard just after 5 a.m., Australian media reported.
She did not leave the airport through the usual exit, evading a large media contingent waiting for her, before being whisked away in a black van with tinted windows.
Family spokeswoman Eleanor Whitney thanked Corby’s supporters and asked for privacy.
“It is with gratefulness and relief we mark Schapelle Corby’s return to Australia,” she said, reading from a statement.
Corby has always maintained her innocence, saying she was unaware she was carrying more than 4 kg (8.8 lb) of marijuana in a boogie board bag when she arrived in Bali in late 2004.
Her story captivated Australia, hogging headlines and prime time television for months, and initially putting strain on diplomatic ties between Australia and Indonesia.
Corby’s case and that of the so-called Bali Nine, who were arrested in 2005 on charges of smuggling heroin from Indonesia into Australia had enormous resonance as a domestic political issue in Australia.
Bali Nine ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were executed in 2015 and, under Indonesia's strict drug laws, Corby could have faced the death penalty for trafficking.
Indonesia’s justice system was vilified in parts of the Australian media, while the Indonesian embassy and officials were sent death threats, including bullets and a white powder in an envelope in 2005.
Former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono granted Corby's clemency plea in 2012, reducing her sentence by five years because of good behavior.
Under her parole conditions, Corby had to keep in close contact with correctional officers while living at the Bali home of her sister Mercedes, trying to stay out of the public eye as the media tracked her every move.
She joined Instagram on Saturday, quickly gaining nearly 95,000 followers, and posted photos and video of her final parole meeting and chaotic scenes as she was escorted from her villa in Kuta to Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport.
(Reporting by Harry Pearl; Editing by Marguerita Choy)