Raids on kebab men

By Matthew Moore in Jakarta, and Robert Wainwright
November 29, 2003

The Mosman home of the alleged people smuggler and kebab shop owner Ali Cetin has been raided in a late-night swoop by Federal Police investigating the smuggling operation that brought 14 Turkish Kurds on an abortive trip to Australia.

Officers targeted Mr Cetin's Spit Road unit about 11.30pm on Thursday, the same day that the Herald revealed his alleged role in smuggling asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia.

It is believed two other premises were raided, including his Mosman kebab shop, and that of another alleged people smuggler, Mehmet Seriban.

Police would not discuss the raids but sources have confirmed that they seized Mr Cetin's bank statements, his passport and other documentation, including his Medicare card, during a four-hour search.

"Search warrants were issued on several premises in Sydney overnight in relation to our continuing investigation into the Melville Island incident, but we are not making any comment about either of the two men named, Cetin or Seriban," a spokesman said, adding that it was an operational matter.

The raids came as several of the Turkish Kurds who sought asylum on Melville Island this month told Australian police in Jakarta they were prepared to give evidence against the two men.

In order to do so, the Federal Government would need to issue them with Criminal Justice Visas to allow them to travel to Australia to appear in court and recount their meetings with people smugglers and testify about the money they paid them.

The asylum seekers have called for the people smugglers who organised their trip to be arrested immediately and jailed.

Asim Bali and Abuzer Guler, representatives of a group of six of the 14 Kurds, said they had identified Mr Cetin and Mr Seriban because they wanted them arrested so other people would not be duped. The two men, who both have Australian passports, are accused of using their origin in the same town of Adiyaman in Turkey to persuade their countrymen to make a better life in Australia.

But the failed asylum seekers say Mr Cetin and Mr Seriban were interested only in money and had no concern for the group's safety. Each asylum seeker paid about US$7000 ($9700) to board a fishing boat, the Minasa Bone, which sailed from Sulawesi to Melville Island before it was towed back to Indonesian waters by the Australian Navy.

"We nearly died - waves came over the boat," said Mr Bali.

The shadow attorney-general, Robert McClelland, accused the Government yesterday of allowing people smugglers to escape unpunished. "By releasing the people smugglers on board the Minasa Bone and failing to investigate the people smuggling ring that organised its journey, the Federal Government has effectively granted an amnesty to people smugglers both here and in Indonesia," he said. "At the very least our regional co-operation arrangement must include provisions to investigate and prosecute people smugglers. It is clear the Government is no longer interested in prosecuting people smugglers if it would cause political embarrassment. This now makes Australia a safe haven for people smugglers."

In several long interviews through a Turkish translator, it became apparent that the asylum seekers now in Jakarta are not impoverished refugees but family men who were hoping to build better lives in Australia.

They all left steady jobs in Turkey and at least one had his own successful business. Most left wives and children behind.

Mr Bali and Mr Guler said the idea for their first trip overseas came after talking to a man in Adiyaman called Mustafa, who told them what Australia offered and put them in touch with Mr Cetin. Mr Cetin convinced them they could start businesses like his kebab shop in Mosman. Their families could come later.

"His restaurant is famous back home. Many people know about it," Mr Bali said.

In August the men paid about $140 for their first passports and flew to Jakarta, where they say they paid their money to Mr Cetin and Mr Seriban. They reject Mr Cetin's claims that he did not meet them or take their money.

Mr Cetin has admitted he was in two hotels in Indonesia in August and October where the Kurds, some from his home town, say they met him, but denies he is a people-smuggler or that he met them. He insists his trips were coincidental and he was on holiday.

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