Death boat suspect set to slip legal net
By Don Greenlees - Jakarta correspondent
The Australian
8 January 2003

ALLEGED people-smuggler Mootaz Attia Mohammad Hasan may never be brought to justice for the drowning of 353 asylum-seekers aboard Siev X because Indonesia lacks the legal power and other countries have no jurisdiction to prosecute, Indonesian and Australian officials say.

Australian authorities seeking to gain custody of Hasan, who used the alias Abu Quassey, can seek to prosecute him only for alleged earlier successful people-smuggling operations -- two vessels that illegally transported about 150 asylum-seekers to Australia. Siev X sank just outside Indonesia's Sunda Strait in October 2001 on route to Christmas Island. Only 44 asylum-seekers, mostly Iraqis, survived after the dilapidated wooden craft went down. Hasan, the Egyptian-born alleged organiser of the vessel, was later arrested and convicted by Indonesian authorities of immigration offences. He served six months in Jakarta's Cipinang prison and was released on January 1. Officials maintain that Indonesian prosecutors lacked the legal power to lay charges of manslaughter caused by negligence against Hasan. Nor does any other country have jurisdiction to prosecute.

If the people-smuggler were eventually handed over to Australian custody, officials say the prosecution would be limited to vessels he allegedly organised that entered the Australian immigration zone.

Under people-smuggling laws, he could face a 20-year sentence for these offences. But it means there is unlikely to ever be a court hearing that brings to light the details of the fatal Siev X voyage.

Indonesian authorities have stalled the deportation of Hasan, now being held in an immigration detention centre, while they weigh up options for his extradition. They are considering whether provisions of the existing extradition treaty with Australia would allow Hasan to be handed over directly to Australian authorities, even though Indonesia is yet to pass its own laws making people-smuggling an offence.

In the likely event extradition directly to Australia is impossible, Hasan will be returned to Egypt.

The Egyptian ambassador to Indonesian, Azzat Saad, said yesterday that approaches already had been made by Australian officials to have Hasan turned over to Australian custody, and Egyptian authorities would try to co-operate.

'If there are legal grounds, we have no interest in avoiding this or keeping him in Egypt,' Mr Saad said.

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