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AFP taken in by Corby rumour
Schapelle Corby after her release from Kerobokan Prison. Picture: Lincoln Baker/The West Australian

The Australian Federal Police still refuse to reveal the grounds under which they secured an unprecedented court order allowing it to raid Seven West Media's head office last week.

But it is becoming increasingly apparent that Australia's national force was taken in by the rumours that Seven had already signed a seven-figure deal with drug trafficker Schapelle Corby.

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

Seven has consistently denied that it had signed a deal with Corby or that any proposed deal was worth $2 million to $3 million.

But these rumours - started by Seven's bidding rivals and fuelled by schadenfreude - got widespread traction and were soon viewed as fact.

The same thing happened in Seven's recent dealings with convicted killer Simon Gittany's girlfriend, Rachelle Louise.

She was reported to have been paid $150,000 for the interviews with Seven's Sunday Night (she wasn't). It was also reported that Seven had banned her from attending Gittany's sentencing to keep its exclusive (it didn't).

And it was reported that Seven had signed up the rest of Gittany's family and barred them from speaking (It didn't and they weren't. They just didn't like the journalists outside the court).

The Gittany rumours were quoted as coming from "a source close to the bidding" (read: Channel 9, which conveniently failed to mention that it had tried to offer Ms Louise tens of thousands of dollars more than Seven for an interview).

The Corby rumours were similarly birthed in a media that delights in cannibalism. If you can't secure the interview, damage the rival that has.

That some news outlets perpetuated the lie is understandable, if not justified.

The fact the AFP believed it is mind-blowing.

The AFP's top two officers, Commissioner Tony Negus and his deputy, Michael Phelan, fronted a Senate committee hearing on Monday and tried to articulate why they believed more than 30 armed officers were needed to raid the headquarters of a company they concede had been co-operating with their investigation.

Senator Helen Kroger: Just to bring this back and put some perspective in it, I understand that you or your officers have acknowledged that it is not an offence to seek an interview with a convicted criminal.

Negus: That is absolutely correct.

Kroger: Or offer to pay, or even actually pay, money for an interview. Is that correct?

Negus: That is correct.

Kroger: And is it true ... that Seven West Media was "very co-operative with the production orders?

Phelan: In relation to that particular issue... Seven was very co-operative, and that is the case.

Mr Phelan said the AFP had been negotiating with Seven West for a week before the February 18 raid and the company had provided a raft of material covered by an initial production order the AFP had given it.

"So material was forthcoming, but in the end we were told that there was no more material in relation to where we were at," he said.

Mr Phelan said the AFP believed that Seven West hadn't handed everything over.

"We felt we had no choice given that we knew, based upon the information that we had, that further documentation existed to then do the search warrants the next day," he said.

The question that needs to be asked is: why didn't they simply ask for the documents he said were referenced in the paperwork that had been handed over?

By his own admission, Seven West was co-operating so surely there was a more civil way to proceed.

But instead, the AFP launched an unprecedented raid on SevenWest, which owns _The West Australian _, with a new search warrant which expanded the terms of the search.

Seven West handed over one additional document which was covered by the warrant's broader terms: an unsigned draft agreement.

After more than 12 hours searching the company's headquarters and the offices of Sunday Night and Pacific Magazines, they appear to have found no smoking gun.

So why did they believe there was one?

Mr Phelan said the reason the AFP had originally asked for production orders was because of "the view that we, like most other Australians, formed on the day Schapelle Corby was released on bail. She left the prison in the company of security guards and went to a luxury villa via limousine, etc, with Channel 7 employees there. It was reasonable for us to assume that an exclusive deal had been done with Channel 7."

Kroger: I must say I have a greater expectation of your need for evidence than a presumption that someone has paid for the circumstances in which, in this case, the Corby family had settled after she was out of jail. So, I think the high bar for the AFP should be much higher than what the rest of us think. I think that is an unfortunate choice of words - put it that way.

The fact that the AFP saw fit to mount an armed raid on the headquarters of a major Australian company and apparently justify it by falsely accusing one of that company's lawyers of committing a crime should be prompting a bigger furore than last week's botched operation has drawn.

Imagine the outrage if the raid had occurred at the offices of Fairfax, News Ltd or the ABC.

But the fallout has been muffled by the perennial debate over chequebook journalism and that the AFP's actions have led to the widespread public perception that Seven has committed a crime.

As the AFP has admitted, any decision by Seven to pay Corby for her story is not a crime.

And Corby is not committing a crime if she receives money for her story.

Once she is paid - if she is paid - it will be a civil matter and the AFP can apply to have that payment confiscated.

What other civil matter in Australia gets dealt with in a raid by more than 30 armed officers?

Yesterday, Seven West made good on its word to sue the AFP and applied for a Federal Court review of the reasons the warrants were issued.

"What we say is since the AFP retracted the allegation that our solicitor was suspected of a criminal offence, then please show us the real reasons you relied on," commercial director Bruce McWilliam said.

"Our request was refused. So we are going to court - firstly to find the reasons they relied on ... and second, if we obtain them, to get them reviewed by the Court to see if it was justified."

Steve Pennells reported on the Gittany story for Sunday Night