Suspected people-smuggler released, faces deportation
2 January 2003
The Jakarta Post

An Egyptian man whom Australia suspects of involvement in a ship accident that drowned hundreds of asylum seekers heading for its shores was released from prison on Wednesday and faces deportation.

Egyptian Abu Quassey walked free after spending six months in prison for visa violations. Immigration officials picked him up upon his release.

"He will be held for the moment before being deported," said one immigration official, as quoted by Reuters. He declined to say for how long Quassey would be held.

Australia has issued an international arrest warrant against Quassey over the death of 353 asylum seekers after their ship drowned on its way from Indonesia to Australia in October 2001. Of the mainly Iraqi and Afghan nationals on board, only 44 survived.

Although most of the survivors blamed people-smugglers for the accident, the government has filed no criminal charges against Quassey in the absence of a law against people-smuggling.

Australia's request that he be extradited, however, was rejected.

Jakarta reportedly only agreed to extradite Quassey if Australia handed over former banker Hendra Rahardja. Hendra is wanted here on corruption charges and for avoiding accountability for the debts of the now defunct Bank Harapan Sentosa (BHS) and Bang Guna International.

In December last year, the Australian police said they would boost efforts with law enforcement agencies in the region to extradite Quassey.

It said Quassey was wanted for cases of people-smuggling dating back since early 2000. He allegedly organized the illegal trips to Australia himself.

Quassey, 29, claims to be a Turkish national, and is married to an Iraqi woman with whom he has one child.

He was unaware that he was wanted in Australia. And contrary to a television interview last year, he denied involvement in people- smuggling.

"I don't feel I am guilty (of people smuggling). It wasn't me who brought the people to the ship," Quassey was quoted as saying by AP. According to him, he may be held for another week.

Indonesia is a key passage for asylum seekers from the Middle East heading for Australia. Indonesia's vast territory, a poorly equipped navy, and immigration officials prone to corruption have made their movement relatively easy.

Australia has been pressuring Indonesia to do more to prevent asylum seekers from reaching its shores as part of its tougher stance on illegal aliens.

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