The People Smuggler
Michael Usher – Reporter
Stephen Rice – Producer
5 May 2013
[Transcript was taken direct from Closed caption service and may not be one hundred percent accurate]
INTRODUCTION, MICHAEL USHER: Welcome back to ’60 Minutes’. So far this year, nearly 7,000 refugees have tried to seek asylum in Australia by boat. It’s a desperate journey, and the numbers are only increasing. One of the reasons - too many people smugglers are getting away with their deadly trade. In fact, one of the most ruthless is living as a free man, collecting welfare under the protection of a foreign government, and our authorities can’t touch him. He helped load 400 people onto the doomed SIEV X, which sank on its way to Christmas Island. 353 people drowned. 146 of them were children. His name is Maythem Radhi. He's been on the run for more than a decade and we've just tracked him down.
STORY, MICHAEL USHER: I’d like to show you some photos.
MICHAEL USHER: Do you recognise that gentleman?
FARIS: Oh yeah.
MICHAEL USHER: Who’s he?
FARIS: It’s Maythem. Maythem. Yeah.
MICHAEL USHER: And is that him?
FARIS: Oh yeah…yeah.
MICHAEL USHER: If I told you that these photos were taken of him in New Zealand…
FARIS: Oh, he in New Zealand, hey?
MICHAEL USHER: He’s living in New Zealand…
FARIS: Oh, OK.
MICHAEL USHER: ...as a refugee.
FARIS: Free? Like innocent people?
MICHAEL USHER: Like an innocent man.
FARIS: But, Michael, he’s this criminal!
MICHAEL USHER: Maythem - the man in the photo - is Maythem Radhi, a 37-year-old Iraqi-born people smuggler who helped send more than 350 asylum seekers to their deaths on a boat that would come to be known as the ‘SIEV X.’ Maythem Radhi has escaped justice for more than a decade. A people smuggler with blood on his hands who simply vanished from sight - until now. Maythem Radhi, you’re a hard man to find.
MICHAEL USHER: You’re a wanted man in Australia. Why are you hiding your face now?
MAYTHEM: What you want?
MICHAEL USHER: I’m from ‘60 Minutes Australia’. You’re a hard man to find.
MAYTHEM: I have a lawyer. You can speak to my lawyer.
MICHAEL USHER: For the last four years, this international fugitive has been practically living under our noses in New Zealand. Tonight - how Australian Federal Police let one of our most-wanted men get away. And for the first time, Maythem Radhi is called to account. Do you deny that you’re a people smuggler who led 353 people to their death? 146 of them were children. And you say, speak to my lawyer? You’re blocking the door, are you? Maythem Radhi had no qualms about loading 400 people onto a boat that was doomed to sink. He never risked his life in a leaky boat. He didn’t have to. He arrived here in New Zealand on a plane and, instead of being arrested as a people smuggler, he was welcomed with open arms. Somehow, Radhi had been declared a refugee. The New Zealand Government helped set him up in a house, gave him generous welfare benefits, and he’s even raised a family here. To the survivors of the ‘SIEV X’ who lost their entire families, it is simply incomprehensible.
FARIS: And I brought this, her photo.
MICHAEL USHER: Ah, this is your daughter?
FARIS: Yeah. This is her. Yeah.
MICHAEL USHER: How old is she here?
FARIS: Ah, she’s seven years.
MICHAEL USHER: Faris Shohani lives with an unbearable sadness. He saw his wife, Leyla, and his daughter Zahra drown. Zara would be 18 now?
FARIS: Oh, yes – 18, yes. Yeah.
MICHAEL USHER: Do you talk to that photo of your daughter?
FARIS: Oh, yeah, for always. For always I said for her, “You’re my love.” Yes, I take her, I kiss her, I put her back, I think, “Hello, little, baba.” What she said to me. For always, she said, “Baba, I love you. I never, never leave you. Baba, baba…”
MICHAEL USHER: Faris now lives in Melbourne. This is the first time he’s told his story on television. Expelled from his native Iraq by Saddam Hussein, Faris spent more than 20 years in refugee camps before finally looking for a boat to Australia from Indonesia in 2001, along with thousands of other Iraqi refugees. You knew that journey to Australia was going to be very dangerous?
FARIS: Yeah. I understand very dangerous and understand very hard but not what I saw like this, no.
MICHAEL USHER: Here in Jakarta, Faris met the biggest people smuggler in the business - the Egyptian mastermind known as Abu Quassey and his two Iraqi-born henchmen, Khaleed Daoed and Maythem Radhi. What was Maythem Radhi’s role in the smuggling operation?
FARIS: Oh yeah, he’s - I think he’s left arm for Abu Quassey because Khaleed, he’s right arm, yeah.
MICHAEL USHER: So the left arm of the smuggling operation?
FARIS: Oh yes. Yes, very, very, very, very important for Abu Quassey.
MICHAEL USHER: What job did he do?
FARIS: He cheat people. He cheat people. He make people poor.
MICHAEL USHER: He made them poor?
MICHAEL USHER: He took their money?
FARIS: They took money, they cheating.
MICHAEL USHER: So he was like the money man?
MICHAEL USHER: Taking the payments?
MICHAEL USHER: Taking jewellery, possessions as well?
FARIS: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
MICHAEL USHER: Then, as now, refugees were easy prey for opportunistic people smugglers who’d set up shop in Jakarta. They had regular meeting points like this McDonalds. Desperate asylum seekers would turn up here with whatever cash and valuables they had to try to buy their passage to Australia. It was at a meeting like this that another ‘SIEV X’ passenger, Aqeel al-Jezani, first met Maythem Radhi. So he was negotiating the prices? Wrangling the fares?
AQEEL: Yeah. He make the deal with the people.
MICHAEL USHER: As the day of departure approaches, the asylum seekers are moved to a port in south Sumatra. It’s clear that a large number of people have signed up for the trip to Australia, but Maythem reassures them there’s plenty of room. The boats will be big, Maythem promises, at least 40 metres long. Safe as houses.
FARIS: He said, “I put for you two water pump, a spare, not one but two.”
MICHAEL USHER: The people arrive at the beach. They’re dreaming of freedom and full of hope. Christmas Island is 500km in that direction. A 36-hour journey if everything goes as promised. The smugglers begin loading them onto small boats to take them to the bigger boats waiting offshore. They take the women and children first. For the men left behind, there’s no turning back. They have no option but to follow their families.
FARIS: Even if you want to change your mind, they didn’t give you permission. They threaten you.
MICHAEL USHER: No turning back.
FARIS: If somebody… I hear - I hear very, very, “We kill him, we shoot him.”
MICHAEL USHER: They were making those threats?
FARIS: I am witness.
MICHAEL USHER: Abu Quassey, the boss, is wielding a pistol, demanding silence. And compounding their fear, the survivors claim Indonesian police are on the scene, working hand-in-hand with the people smugglers. Maythem and his younger brother Maysar are herding their human cargo onto the smaller boats.
AQEEL: When we go there we see too many people. He say, “No because we got two ships.” “Okay, two ships”. “Two ships”.
MICHAEL USHER: So he promised there were two ships?
AQEEL: He say, “No, we got two…two ship, not one ship.”
MICHAEL USHER: But when they get out into the harbour, there are no bigger boats. There’s only one. It’s ancient, leaking, and like this, barely 20 metres in length. It takes just a few seconds to walk from stern to bow. It would have been perilously overcrowded, with just 50 people above and below deck. But instead, 400 men, women and children are packed on board.
FARIS: They cheat us, they cheat us.
MICHAEL USHER: The boat was a death-trap?
AQEEL: Absolutely, yeah.
MICHAEL USHER: There was a reason so many women and children were on board. Under the Howard Government’s Temporary Protection Visa scheme, men who’d already made it to Australia were not entitled to be joined by their wives and children. So the ‘SIEV X’ had been packed with families, trying to reunite with husbands and fathers the only way they thought possible. By the second day, the boat is leaking badly. The deck is barely above the waterline. And the engine is failing constantly. The engine has finally given out and water is pouring in through the propeller shaft. The two new pumps that Maythem had promised turn out to be flaking with rust and they fail almost immediately. Terrified passengers grab a bucket and they try and bail the water out. But there is no hope. The boat is sinking. As water rushes in, the boat tips over. Faris Shohani is separated from his wife and his daughter.
FARIS: I didn’t breathe, and my wife and my children is gone from my hand. And I saw my wife, she call me, she yelling to me, I yell her. And I saw my daughter, she… The waves, they push her. They push her! I swim, following her, I miss her hands.
MICHAEL USHER: But she was trying to get to you?
FARIS: Absolutely, yes.
MICHAEL USHER: She was trying to swim to you?
FARIS: Yes, yes. She call me, “Dad, dad, dad, dad, please come help me, come help me, come help me” and I didn’t catch her. She gone down and I didn’t saw her. After when I come back to her mum, I saw her mum, she passed away. I saw her body. But my daughter’s body, no, I saw no, I didn’t saw her.
MICHAEL USHER: Over the next day and night, 146 children will die.
FARIS: Some time I saw kids, they call me, “Uncle, Uncle Faris, please help me, please help me.” Some… some of them I catch them with me. But I am alone because I didn’t come closer to them. Actually, I want to be honest with you - I didn’t come closer because not, ah, energy I have a lot. I am worry or I am scary somebody again, he catch me, or tie me, he drown me…
MICHAEL USHER: You had lost your young daughter and your wife.
MICHAEL USHER: How did you find the strength to survive out there?
FARIS: No, actually, uh, the scare…the scary is gone. When my wife and my daughter I lose them, I didn’t care if I pass away or I am survivor, no.
AQEEL: ‘Cause we stay around 20, 23, or 24 hours.
MICHAEL USHER: In the water?
AQEEL: Yeah, ‘cause just waiting for death, you know, or die.
MICHAEL USHER: All the survivors we’ve spoken to tell a haunting story of seeing two large, unidentified navy ships during the night which shone a spotlight on them but left without helping.
FARIS: They stay with us maybe about half an hour or maybe more and they starting watching us one by one - how we drown, how we dying. Even they didn’t pick one child.
MICHAEL USHER: Not one?
FARIS: Not one.
MICHAEL USHER: Faris doesn’t know whose ships these were. The Australian Defence Force says none of its vessels were in the area. It’s one more question Faris knows will probably never be answered. In the end, it was a group of Indonesian fishing boats who rescued the survivors. Only 45 of the 400 passengers survived. Faris was alive, but a shattered man. His life from now on would be haunted by the men who destroyed his family and the crimes they committed. Coming up - she was your beautiful baby girl?
FARIS: Yeah. I love her.
MICHAEL USHER: Of course you do.
MICHAEL USHER: How Australian Federal Police let a notorious people smuggler slip through the net. You’ve been on the run for 12 years. Now, we track him down. Do you recognise her? Zahra? She was one of the little girls who drowned. That’s next on ‘60 Minutes.’ Welcome back to ’60 Minutes’ and the hunt for one of Australia’s most wanted people smugglers. Maythem Radhi has been on the run for more than a decade for his role in the death of 353 asylum seekers. And, as you’re about to see, there are serious questions about how the Australian Federal Police and New Zealand immigration allowed him to slip through the net. It only adds to the pain of survivors like Iraqi-born Faris Shohani, who lost his wife and 7-year-old daughter.
MAYTHEM: What the fuck?
MICHAEL USHER: Come on! You can’t hide in there forever. In an Auckland garage, we confront this notorious people smuggler. Cowering behind a door. You’re not much of a man, are you? Maythem Radhi helped load 400 asylum seekers onto the boat that become known as the ‘SIEV X’. A doomed voyage where only 45 of the passengers would survive. Faris Shohani is one of them, but his wife and 7-year-old daughter Zahra drowned in front of him. Her handbag and doll the only precious possessions he has of her.
FARIS: Always she said, “Dad, baba, I love you so much. She thought… always she said to me, “Baba, you gentleman.”
MICHAEL USHER: She was your beautiful baby girl.
FARIS: Yeah. I love her.
MICHAEL USHER: Of course you do.
MICHAEL USHER: Here, I’ll let you hold that, that’s yours.
FARIS: Yes. I love her. I love her toy. Her shoulder, where she put in the shoulder. Yeah, I… I come back some time.
MICHAEL USHER: But is the closest thing you have to her, so...
FARIS: Oh, yeah. But sometime when she come in my dream, all day I am sad. I loved them. I loved them a lot.
MICHAEL USHER: There were three people smugglers behind the disastrous ‘SIEV X’ voyage. The law caught up with the ringleader Abu Qassey but it wasn’t Australian justice. Deported from Indonesia, he was put on trial in his native Egypt and jailed for five years.
ALEXANDER: It sends a very strong message not just to people smugglers in Indonesia but more broadly around the world, that the game of people smuggling is finished.
MICHAEL USHER: Ten years on, the game of people smuggling is far from finished and it seems precious little is being done to bring the culprits to justice. Another ‘SIEV X’ conspirator, Khaleed Daoed, was handed over to the AFP after he was spotted in Scandinavia. He was brought back to Australia and sentenced to nine years in prison. But the third people smuggling boss, Maythem Radhi, disappeared. Then, one day in 2009, ‘SIEV X’ survivor Aqeel al-Jezani, now resettled in New Zealand, went shopping with a friend at a Harvey Norman store in Auckland.
AQEEL: He said “Aqul.” I said, “What?” He said, “See - it’s Maythem.”
MICHAEL USHER: You saw him in the Harvey Norman store?
AQEEL: Yeah, he was… he was with his brother. I, really, I can’t control myself, you know, I feel shaking.
MICHAEL USHER: What did you do?
AQEEL: I talk to him. I tell him, “Why you do that? So why kill all these people?” And he just, he put his head down and, um, I said, “OK, I just, uh, how the New Zealand government, they bring you here for the immigration? You are a criminal. How they bring you here? Just I want to know that.” He didn’t say anything. MICHAEL USHER: Did he have any words for you at all?
AQEEL: No. Because he have nothing to do, to talk about, because he know he’s guilty.
MICHAEL USHER: If you were a man, you’d come out and face these questions. You’ve been avoiding them for 12 years. I can wait as long as you like. Just how Maythem Radhi found safe haven in New Zealand appears to highlight incompetence and neglect by immigration authorities there and the Australian Federal Police. In eyewitness statements, collected by the AFP soon after the sinking, ‘SIEV X’ survivors, including Faris and Aqeel, repeatedly identified Maythem Radhi as a key organiser. But New Zealand Immigration authorities let him settle here as a refugee in 2009 because, as they’ve now admitted to us in a statement, they weren’t aware he was a wanted man. Mate, these are just very easy questions.
MAYTHEM: No, easy. No one hit you! No one hit you!
MICHAEL USHER: No, no, don’t do that. These are just questions, okay? We know who you are. Alright, calm down.
MAYTHEM: I have a lawyer and you can speak with my lawyer.
MICHAEL USHER: When the Australian Federal Police finally cottoned on to the fact that Maythem Radhi had been hiding under their noses here in New Zealand, they applied for an extradition order. But Maythem Radhi had other ideas and he had a lot of help. The New Zealand Government funded his defence and appeal all the way here to the High Court. This is where it became a real farce. The judge decided that the people who wrote New Zealand’s people smuggling legislation had put a comma in the wrong place. A simple punctuation error that let Radhi walk out of here a free man. I’m interested in talking to you directly, ok?
MAYTHEM: No, no, no. You can speak to my lawyer.
MICHAEL USHER: You’re accused of being a people smuggler, involved in the ‘SIEV X’ tragedy. 353 people died. You have been fighting the extradition. You are a wanted man in Australia.
MAYTHEM: Speak to him! That’s it!
MICHAEL USHER: I’m not interested in talking to your lawyer. Why would I talk your lawyer when I can talk to you now? Why are these questions so hard to answer? You’re a people smuggler, mate. You were one of three and you’ve been on the run for 12 years and now we’ve found you.
MAYTHEM: No, no. Please go out.
MICHAEL USHER: That is true. You vanished. You disappeared off the radar.
MAYTHEM: Go out! Go out from here.
MICHAEL USHER: You know what you did.
MAYTHEM: Go out from here!
MICHAEL USHER: 146 children died. 146 children! Do you recognise her? Zahra? She was one of the little girls who drowned. She was 7-years-old.
MAYTHEM: I was also come in by ship.
MICHAEL USHER: Her father still can’t sleep!
MAYTHEM: I’m also coming by ship. I don’t know myself if I’m dying or something.
MICHAEL USHER: You’re a victim, you’re saying?
MAYTHEM: Yeah, I’m a victim, too.
MICHAEL USHER: Why?
MAYTHEM: I come here from my country, I leave everything behind me.
MICHAEL USHER: For those whose lives he helped destroy, it’s the ultimate insult.
FARIS: But he’s guilty. Michael, he break my heart, this person.
MICHAEL USHER: I hope this image doesn’t disturb you but I would like to show it to you.
FARIS: Thank you.
MICHAEL USHER: It appears that Maythem has a family, he has a young daughter. An age, I’m guessing, that’s not too far off your daughter’s age.
FARIS: Yeah, I hope can I see him. I want to ask him one question. “Do you love this girl?” If he say yes, I tell him, how much you like her? How much you love her? His daughter is innocent but the father is very, very disgusting person.
MICHAEL USHER: You helped arrange it, you took the money. You coordinated that boat! Where are you running to now? Run and hide Maytham! You’ve done it for 12 years! But Maytham Radhi is not the only one with some explaining to do. The New Zealand Government let him settle there in 2009 because the Australian Federal Police hadn’t told them that he was a wanted man. Now, the AFP have admitted to us that they first applied for an arrest warrant in 2010, a year after he’d settled as a refugee in New Zealand and almost ten years after ‘SIEV X’ survivors had identified Maythem Radhi to Australian federal agents. But it gets worse. In response to our written questions for this story, the AFP has revealed it suspended its investigation into Maythem in 2003 due to competing operational priorities. But that’s not what they told Parliament two years later.
CHRISTINE: I want to ask particularly Commissioner Keelty…
MICHAEL USHER: In 2005, the then AFP commissioner, Mick Keelty, fronted a senate inquiry, telling it that investigations into Maythem Rahdi were still ongoing.
CHRISTINE: At what point do you think the Australian Federal Police will be in a position to make a full disclosure about…
MICHAEL USHER: Therefore, couldn’t directly answer questions.
MICK: Senator, it’s my understanding that there are investigations into a third person. It’s an operational matter. We’ve been as frank as we possibly can in the circumstances, given the prosecutions and the ongoing investigation.
MICHAEL USHER: But as the AFP tells us now, at that exact time, the investigation had actually been suspended for at least a year.
CHRISTINE: And there is nothing further you can disclose at this time without jeopardising the inquiry that you’ve just referred to - is that what I should take from what you are saying?
MICK: On the briefing that I have been given this correct, Senator.
MICHAEL USHER: So what’s the truth of it? Is it what the Federal Police said through their commissioner to Parliament in 2005, or is it what they’ve told us in statements this week? One thing is clear, Maythem Radhi was essentially given a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Only seven of the 45 ‘SIEV X’ survivors were allowed to settle in Australia. Faris Shohani is one of the lucky ones, though his eyes tell a different story. But Faris is slowly recovering and profoundly grateful to the country that took him in and whose citizenship he now proudly carries.
FARIS: Actually Australia... I love Australia. Australia now my home. Australia I feel everything for me.
MICHAEL USHER: Do you feel like Australia has saved you?
FARIS: Absolutely. I love it. Never I thought that... This citizenship that they give me, for me, very, very important.
MICHAEL USHER: And after years struggling with grief and depression, this very decent man has re-married and found in Maji, a fellow refugee, someone who understands. What do you hope for your husband? What are you dreams for him?
MAJI: I hope he forget this tragedy, even a little bit, so he can live his life not with the past, thinking about the future. There is a future. This is all my dream for him.
FARIS: Thank you, Maji.
MICHAEL USHER: The Australian Federal Police have refused our repeated requests for an interview, but you can find their their written response on our website [linked to below].
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