Key people smuggler arrested in Malaysia
Grant Holloway
3 December 2001

CANBERRA, Australia -- A man believed to be responsible for smuggling thousands of boat people into Australia has been arrested by the Royal Malaysian Police following a two-year joint investigation.

Naeil Ahmad Abdullah, 41, was arrested in Malaysia late last month on immigration charges and faces a jail term or deportation if found guilty.

Australian Federal Police coordinator for transnational crime operations, Shane Castles, told CNN Monday Abdullah was believed to be one of six to eight major players using Malaysia as a base for people-smuggling operations.

It is alleged he has transported thousands of people from the Middle East to Indonesia and then on to outlying Australian island territories via fishing boats and ferries.

Castles said Abdullah was believed to have been a very active operator and his removal from the people-smuggling business should have a measurable impact on the numbers of people eventually arriving on Australian shores.

He said Australia would not seek to extradite Abdullah as there were legal impediments to taking that action.

The Malaysian charges would serve "almost as good" a purpose in disrupting the people-smuggling trade, Castles said.

More than 1,800 boat people attempted to enter Australia in September and October this year, four times the amount in the same period a year ago, according to the Department of Immigration.

Australia has taken a tough stance on boat people following an international incident in August this year where a Norwegian freighter which had rescued a boatload of asylum seekers was denied permission to land the human cargo in Australia.

Instead, Australian navy and customs vessels have been either turning the boats back to international waters or transporting the asylum seekers to detention camps in the Pacific nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea where their applications for refugee status are assessed.

Typically the boat people, the majority of whom originate from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, pay between $1,000 and $5,000 each to the people smugglers for the trip to Australia

Castles said the Australian Federal Police had worked closely with the Royal Malaysian Police to arrest Abdullah and more Malaysian-based people smugglers were being targeted.

He said Immigration Department figures suggested between 70 and 80 percent of recent boat arrivals had been organized by Malaysian operators.

While it was likely new operators would step up to fill the gap following Abdullah's demise, Castles said that process would take time.

Meanwhile, the AFP would be taking every opportunity to work with the Malaysian police who were providing Australia "with a great deal of assistance" in stemming the people-trafficking trade.

He said Australia's liaison officer network was working very closely with law enforcement agencies in south-east and central Asia, in line with Australia's belief in an international approach to combating the problem.

"We are taking the fight offshore to where the crimes are taking place," Castles said.

Back to