October 06, 2016 - 5:39 AM
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Nine Australians who spent four nights in police detention after stripping down to skimpy swimsuits printed with the Malaysian flag at that nation's Formula One Grand Prix walked free Thursday without a conviction after pleading guilty to causing a public nuisance and apologizing.
The nine were detained since Sunday after they partied in their swimwear and drank beer from shoes in full view of thousands of spectators at the Sepang track after Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo won the race.
Australian media dubbed them the Budgie Nine. A budgerigar is an Australian parrot that is a popular household pet and the Australians' swimwear is colloquially known as budgie smugglers.
The name plays on nine Australians arrested in Indonesia for heroin trafficking in 2005 who became known as the Bali Nine.
Their Australian families flew to Malaysia as the police warned the friends faced potential two-year prison sentences.
Defence lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah said the court accepted his argument that it was a trivial offence and that the nine, mostly dressed in suits in the court, were ignorant of the local culture and remorseful. He said one of them read out an apology to the court, admitting to an "error of judgment."
Shafee said their actions were not illegal in most countries, including Australia.
"We are sensitive about it, but they didn't know. They sincerely thought it was a respect and a celebration with Malaysians," Shafee said.
"The court accepted my mitigation that this was a trivial offence and under extenuating circumstances because they misunderstood the local culture. They have been admonished by the court and released without conviction," he added.
He said one of the men fainted in court briefly due to dehydration.
The nine, mostly Sydney University graduates in their 20s, left the court without speaking to reporters. The men included Jack Walker, an adviser to Australian Defence Industry Minister Chris Pyne.
His father John Walker said they were very thankful.
"There's no charge, there's no fine and the boys apologized. They recognized what they did was unacceptable but they have been completely cleared and are free to travel and resume their lives," he said.
Ricciardo, the driver whose success inspired the Australians' beer-fueled revelry, described the incident as "pretty harmless."
"I respect the laws of Malaysia, but beyond that I don't think they deserve any further punishment," Ricciardo told Sydney's The Daily Telegraph newspaper.
"In Australia, it's a bit different, but I'm very sure they didn't intend to offend anyone," he said.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016