In a disturbing development in the SIEVX story, Abu Quassey, the mastermind behind the fatal SIEVX voyage, has had his jail sentence reduced by 21 months. He will be free in a little over four years time.
Last December, Quassey was convicted in Egypt and sentenced to five years for 'homicide through negligence' and to another two years for aiding illegal migration - both charges related to SIEVX.
On 24 November this year, the court of appeal in Cairo upheld Quassey's conviction but reduced his sentence for people smuggling from two years to just three months. This reduces his overall sentence by 25 per cent.
Comparing recent sentences meted out to people smugglers by Australian courts to the sentence that Quassey received in Egypt, Quassey is getting off very lightly for his crimes.
For example, Keis Asfoor, who brought more than 12 boatloads of asylum seekers illegally to Australia was found guilty in Perth late last year and sentenced to 12 years jail and Al Hassan Abdolamir Al Jenabi was sentenced to eight years jail in September. Al Jenabi's sentence was comparatively lenient as the judge took into account that one of the reasons he was involved in the people smuggling trade was to bring his family to Australia. And no-one died on any of Asfoor's or Al Jenabi's boats.
In December 2002, with Quassey's release from an Indonesian prison imminent and under pressure from the Senate to bring the people-smuggler to justice, Minister Ellison vowed to pursue him to the ends of the earth if necessary:
'We will chase him and there will be no relenting in that pursuit, no matter where he goes or how long he lives... He is one of the No 1, if not the No 1, fugitives that Australia is chasing.'
Ellison's pledge now sounds very hollow in the light of Quassey's reduced sentence. The Australian Government cannot argue that justice has been delivered in this case with Quassey receiving only a three month sentence for people smuggling. It claims to be tough on people smugglers, yet this most notorious people smuggler, responsible for the drowning of 353 innocent people (mostly women and children) will walk free in a little over four years time after serving less than a week's jail time for every life lost on SIEVX.
We believe that Quassey has information concerning Australia's covert people smuggling disruption operation in Indonesia which will only be revealed if he is brought to Australia to give evidence.
Given its tough stance on people smuggling, it is reasonable to expect that the Australian Government would also want to bring Quassey to Australia in order that he receive a similar sentence to that received by other convicted smugglers such as Asfoor and Al Jenabi. Because of the double jeopardy rule, Quassey's convictions in Egypt for manslaughter and people smuggling appear to have shut the door on the possibility that he will ever stand trial in Australia on any SIEVX-related charges. However, there are three outstanding warrants for Quassey for other boats he allegedly organised (Donnybrook, Gelantipy and Yambuk) for which it appears he could be extradited and charged.
But there is still a chance that Quassey could testify in an Australian court regarding SIEVX if he is called as a witness to the upcoming trial of Khaleed Daoed, his alleged accomplice in organising the SIEVX voyage. In the absence of a judicial inquiry, the Daoed trial is the only opportunity in the forseeable future to expose some of the secrets about the SIEVX mystery.
If the government wants to avoid the continuing stench of complicity in the deaths of 353 people then it must take action to bring Quassey to Australia as a witness in the Daoed trial and also make a public committment now that it will endeavour to extradite him to Australia on people smuggling charges after he has served his sentence in Egypt.