Kingpin smuggler's 400 paying customers

By Robert Wainwright and Matthew Moore
December 4, 2003

photo caption: Charged up to $11,000, say Turkish asylum seekers . . . Mehmet Seriban. Mehmet Seriban, the former Manly kebab shop worker and Turkish asylum seeker, has been linked to at least eight boatloads of refugees which slipped into Australian waters in the past five years.

Herald investigations show that the boats - in 1998, 1999 and last month - carried 216 asylum seekers, including 182 Turkish Kurds. Department of Immigration lists indicate that 112 have been granted permanent protection visas while nine are still in detention.

But the actual numbers could be as high as 400, say many in Sydney's Turkish community who believe that Mr Seriban and other men were also involved in a number of boats that arrived in 2000 (51 boats) and 2001 (34). Federal police have known of Mr Seriban's activities since 1999, when he is accused of organising at least six boats.

He is also believed to have been behind a boat in November 1998 carrying 11 Turks and four Iraqis, including the Mosman kebab shop owner Ali Cetin, under investigation over his alleged role with Mr Seriban in last month's arrival of 14 Kurds at Melville Island.

Several of Mr Seriban's former customers say he was paid $US5000 ($6800) to $US8000 for the trip. Most were recruited by Mr Seriban and other men, including a Perth kebab shop owner, Hasan Demirci, who also arrived in Australia by boat.

Mr Cetin, whose alleged role was revealed last week by the Herald, insists it was a coincidence that he was in Indonesia at the same time as the refugees and denies knowing Mr Demirci or Mr Seriban. He also admits being in Turkey about the time the refugees were being organised but denies any involvement.

Mr Demirci also denies an involvement but concedes he knows Mr Seriban and Mr Cetin.

The widening circle of former asylum seekers and their smuggling involvement comes amid an inquiry hampered by the forced return of the Melville Island boat to Indonesian waters.

There has been no comment since police raided Mr Cetin's Mosman home and business. The six refugees who made the initial allegations against Mr Cetin and Mr Seriban are due to fly back to Turkey tomorrow.


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