Who is Ben Panangian and how did he meet Schapelle Corby?
Bernard Simanjuntak - known as Ben Panangian – is a stand-up paddleboard instructor in Bali, Indonesia.
Schapelle and Ben first met in 2006 during a church service in Kerobokan Prison while they were both serving time for drug offences.
Ben had been sentenced to three-and-a-half years’ jail for marijuana possession.
"I made a bad choice in my life," he explained to New Idea in 2017. "I was smoking socially with friends at the beach – we were arrested."
Bumping into Schapelle during his first week behind bars in mid-2006, Ben was drawn to the former Gold Coast beauty student, rapidly discovering they shared a love of the ocean and similar family values.
"She was very friendly and I also thought she was very beautiful. I looked forward to going to church to see her, and she was happy to have someone to speak English with," he previously said.
Getting to know Schapelle better, if she seemed down-hearted he would pick flowers from the garden beside the prison church and send them to her cell with a little note.
Once he was released, Ben visited Schapelle weekly and supported her through suicide attempts and battles with prison-induced mental illness.
What happened after Schapelle Corby was deported?
Following Schapelle’s deportation to Australia, the couple continued a long distance relationship, with Ben’s criminal record making it tricky for him to visit Schapelle in Australia.
In an interview with New Idea in 2017, Ben admitted he missed having Schapelle in Bali.
“It is lonely with her not here,” Ben said.
“I really hope we can see each other again in the future, but we don’t know. It’s all uncertain and so it’s difficult to make any plans.”
“We dream of getting back together,” Ben added.
“But we don’t speak of marriage or children. Once we know if we can see each other again, we can talk about it."
The pair rarely share updates on their life together, but in the years since Schapelle’s deportation, the Aussie has uploaded snippets of their reunions in overseas locations such as Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam.
Are Schapelle Corby and Ben Panangian still together?
Rumours have often swirled of the couple’s supposed engagement and pregnancies, but late last year, Schapelle was quick to hose down the speculation after fans were sent into a frenzy when she appeared to be wearing an engagement ring.
"No, not engaged. No pressure to him. It's commitment," she told 9Honey.
And although Ben doesn't often make an appearance on Schapelle’s Instagram page, she recently told Woman’s Day that they have plans to start a family together.
"We are hoping to become pregnant on this trip together. I'm 42 this year and Ben is 38," Schapelle told the publication during the couple’s luxe getaway in Thailand in 2019.
"Our two weeks a year together is precious," Schapelle added.
"We are grateful to be able to travel and meet each other. Ben is my best friend. We keep our relationship going through daily video chats."
Schapelle also confirmed they were still together in a radio interview with KIIS FM's Kyle & Jackie O show.
Quizzed about their relationship, Schapelle replied, "My Benny boy, Yes, we're still together. We haven't seen each other since February, 2019."
On Valentine's Day 2021, Schapelle further confirmed they haven't split, sharing a snap of the pair together and lovingly captioning it "long distance love".
However, given the Australian borders are closed for the foreseeable future, it remains to be seen whether their bond will remain strong or if the time has finally come to wave goodbye to their relationship for good.
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