Vow to hunt man behind death voyageBy Mark Metherell
December 30 2002
The Federal Government has pledged a worldwide hunt for the people-smuggler accused of orchestrating the doomed SIEV-X voyage, which cost 353 lives, after failing to extradite him from Indonesia.
Abu Quassey, an Egyptian national, is due to walk free from a Jakarta jail on Wednesday after four attempts to bring him to Australia to face charges.
The Justice Minister, Chris Ellison, said yesterday that Australia was helpless to prevent the release but would continue its pursuit of him."We will not relent in our pursuit of this fellow."
Australia had issued a "red alert" through Interpol to more than 170 countries to track Mr Quassey's movements once he was released, Senator Ellison said. He gave no further details, saying: "We are not going to signal our shots."
The impending release has sparked criticism that the Government has failed to press Indonesia to hand over Mr Quassey because of what he might reveal about Australia's alleged role in the SIEV-X tragedy.
The Democrats' leader, Andrew Bartlett, and the former diplomat Tony Kevin say Australia's failure to effectively pursue the case contrasts with the close co-operation gained with Jakarta after the Bali bombings.
Mr Kevin has questioned why Mr Quassey was arrested but not charged with murder after the 353 asylum seekers drowned when the unseaworthy SIEV-X sank off Indonesia on October 19 last year.
He has suggested that the sinking may be linked to the involvement of the Australian Federal Police with the Indonesian authorities in disrupting boat people movements.
The AFP says that any inference that it had direct or indirect involvement in sabotaging SIEV-X is a "scurrilous and baseless attack".
Senator Bartlett said yesterday that if Mr Quassey was freed "he would be able to leave Indonesia. He would not be able to be brought to justice as a central figure knowing what happened and who was involved".
Mr Kevin, a former ambassador to Cambodia, said Australia's attempts to extradite him were "smoke and mirrors".
However, Mr Ellison said Australia was unable to extradite Mr Quassey on murder charges because it could not say whether SIEV-X sank in Indonesian or international waters.
The AFP had also sought to extradite him on people-smuggling charges but this too had failed because there was no law against this in Indonesia.
Mr Ellison rejected suggestions that the Government had soft-pedalled. "We have nothing to fear from what Mr Abu Quassey might say."
The Opposition, Democrats and minority parties in the Senate this month called for a judicial inquiry into the Government's people-smuggling disruption program.
In October a Senate report said it was disturbing that no review of the SIEV-X episode was undertaken.
It was "extraordinary that a major human disaster could occur in the vicinity of a theatre of intensive Australian operations and remain undetected until three days after the event, without any concern being raised within intelligence and decision-making circles".
Mr Kevin last night rejected Senator Ellison's promise of an international hunt, saying there were plenty of chances for Mr Quassey to disappear.
"If Senator Ellison were serious about pursuing Mr Quassey he could have put to Indonesian authorities enough evidence to enable him to be charged with crimes relating to the wilful overloading and sabotage of the boat leading to the deaths of 353 people."