New footage exposes confession of people smuggler involved in fatal boat sinking

25 June 2013
George Roberts

TONY EASTLEY: New video footage has emerged of an Indonesian people smuggler admitting involvement in a fatal boat sinking last year and describing asylum seekers as "goats."

ABC News has obtained videos of a people smuggler called Freddy Ambon, who tries to convince asylum seekers he can get them to Christmas Island safely.

He admits sending an asylum seeker boat in June last year that sank, killing as many as 96 asylum seekers. The inquest into that sinking begins in Perth today.

But Mr Ambon dismisses the tragedy as a one-off problem. He also reveals the key involvement of Indonesian police.

From Jakarta here's Indonesia correspondent, George Roberts.

(Excerpt from footage of meeting with Freddy Ambon)

GEORGE ROBERTS: It's scratchy footage but it clearly reveals a people smuggler at work, selling his services.

FREDDY AMBON (translation): Abbas, Abbas, if you're with me, you don't have to be afraid. Don't worry, just go, go, go to Christmas Island, go, go, go. Don't be afraid.

GEORGE ROBERTS: Two sources tell the ABC that's Freddy Ambon, a people smuggler known to police.

Posing as a broker for a fictitious group of clients, an Afghan asylum seeker, calling himself "Abbas", secretly shot four videos of Mr Ambon last month.

FREDDY AMBON (translation): I will take care of the boat, the engine, get it overhauled - everything. Get the fuel loaded, ok? The supplies loaded, ok? Then 'the goats' go. That's it.

GEORGE ROBERTS: Abbas told the ABC he'd lost two brothers on a boat organised by a people smuggler and wanted the deadly trade exposed.

He challenged Mr Ambon about his safety record. In particular, a boat that sank north of Christmas Island in June last year, killing up to 96 people.

Freddy Ambon admits his involvement, but blames it on a Pakistani business partner.

FREDDY AMBON (translation): It was overloaded - so full. I told him, 'Don't put more passengers on,' but he insisted. So it wasn't my fault. I did no wrong.

I've never done that, bro. I always get them through. They get through, get through all the time. So that problem happened in June last year.

GEORGE ROBERTS: The tragedy came just days before the Australian government's favoured Malaysia Solution failed on the floor of the Senate, forcing Labor down the path towards processing on Manus Island and Nauru.

Since then there've been record boat arrivals.

Freddy Ambon says, to make it safer, he sends 50 people at a time and up to three boats a month. He boasts about co-operation from Indonesian police.

FREDDY AMBON (translation): And then the police headquarters, the police HQ, will escort the boat. Perhaps Irfan has told you I'm a former police officer? Don't ask which unit, I'm a former policeman - this is just for you to know. But, it means there is no problem, bro. There is no problem, no problem, no problem. The passengers will get through.

GEORGE ROBERTS: Another people smuggling source has told the ABC that for a bribe of about $7,000, Indonesian police will escort the asylum seekers to the coast.

For another $10,000, police will make sure the way is cleared and the smuggling operations aren't interrupted.

FREDDY AMBON (translation): Yeah Ancol beach. It's also guarded by police. My police. My men. Listen here, those who read about in the media who get caught, it's because they didn't do much coordination with the police. That's because they didn't have good coordination. But if they do have coordination, they can get through to Christmas Island.

GEORGE ROBERTS: As part of a joint investigation, the ABC and Fairfax Media called Freddy Ambon, who denied involvement in people smuggling, even before he'd been asked.

He also said that "Freddy" is just an alias he uses, and his real name is Muhammad Aksan.

The head of Indonesia's people smuggling task force, Brigadier General Herry Pratowo, says he wasn't aware of the allegations of police involvement but would make internal inquiries.

This is George Roberts in Jakarta reporting for AM.


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