Shades of Keystone Cops in AFP search

At 1.49pm on Tuesday, Channel 7's Sunday Night executive producer Mark Llewellyn sent an email to his staff with the subject line: Anonymous Broadcast.

"Dear Sunday Night," he wrote. "If you are reading this, we are being raided. I speak from the escape pod.

"There is nothing to fear but fear itself. Stay strong. Cobra."

Five hours earlier, the Australian Federal Police had begun its unprecedented raid on Seven West Media's offices with more than two dozen armed officers and a tense standoff at the company's Jones Bay headquarters.

By 2pm, the bid to uncover evidence of a rumoured interview deal with Schapelle Corby had well and truly jumped the shark.

Officers had tried and failed to block the search being filmed, had threatened to get "50 more" armed police to the building and had falsely claimed that the raid was being carried out because a Seven lawyer was suspected of committing a criminal offence.

More embarrassingly, they still had not raided Llewellyn's Sunday Night office - the supposed ground zero for the Corby deal - because they did not know where it was. They finally found their way there - at the company's Eveleigh offices across town - about 3pm, filing around Llewellyn's desk and rifling through his cupboards.

As they did, staff emailed their boss pictures of AFP officers clustered around his computer, searching through greeting cards, scanning private bills, looking through old scripts and handling a convincing piece of rubber vomit which was stuffed into a box. He sent them back a picture of himself in hiding, head covered with a plastic bag with two lopsided eye holes cut out.

"I had a lot of staff, my friends, unarmed Australians going about their normal business who were suddenly confronted with a very menacing raid," Llewellyn said yesterday. "One way of reassuring them (and me for that matter) was to try and laugh at the absurdity of this over-the-top Stasi-like intrusion. That, and I kinda like the codename Cobra."

It was an operation that was unprecedented, unexpected and mostly unexplained. Seven's Jones Bay headquarters was raided first with armed officers, hands on their holsters, initially refused access to the building while lawyers were called. They then tried to stop Seven News cameramen from filming them.

By the time they made their way to Eveleigh, menace had become farce.

In surreal scenes which stretched into the night, the officers paused at 6pm to gather around a monitor in the office and watch television coverage of their raid.

Later, their investigation stalled when they realised that emails they wanted to access on Llewellyn's computer were kept on a server at Seven's Jones Bay headquarters, where officers had already left.

When they were still in Pacific Magazines at 8pm, they ordered seven pizzas and two garlic breads delivered to the building.

In the words of Seven West chief Tim Worner, the agents were "no doubt shocked to discover the truth" that no agreement with Corby existed.

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance said the raid appeared designed to intimidate.

"Why is a small army of officers required to burst into newsrooms if all they want is to view financial records," the MEAA said.

In the four days since the operation, the AFP has come under increasing heat over its actions, not least from an angry Seven West, which has ratcheted up its war of words with Australia's national police force.

Yesterday, the AFP was forced into an embarrassing apology for alleging a Seven lawyer was a suspect in a crime, blaming the mistake on a "word processing error".

But it refused to detail the reason it saw fit to raid the corporate building of an iconic Australian brand like it was the headquarters of a Colombian cocaine cartel.

The AFP declined to respond yesterday to a series of questions from _The West Australian _ about the operation, the false allegations about the Seven West lawyer and the timing of the raids, which were conducted seven days before an agreed deadline with the company to hand over requested documents.

"The proceeds of crime investigation remains ongoing and as such, it would not be appropriate to comment further," the AFP said.

Yesterday afternoon, after the AFP admitted the allegations against the Seven lawyer were false, Seven's commercial director Bruce McWilliam typed an angry email to Attorney-General George Brandis.

He copied it to Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott's chief of staff.

"As a lawyer, will you please do your job and demand some accountability from the AFP who should have simply asked for the documents referred to in the search warrant, given full compliance with the production requests rather than wasting public resources on a 'raid' on a television network," he wrote.

He said "crack-handed" tactics were instead used, involving more than 30 armed officers.

"Why were they armed?

"Did they fear that the office staff would attack them with staplers? Is this a complete shemozzle?"

The West Australian

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