Smuggling accused may dodge Australian courts

By Matthew Moore, Herald Correspondent in Jakarta
January 28 2003

Alleged people smuggler Abu Quassey appears increasingly likely to avoid being extradited to Australia to face charges after the Indonesian Government said yesterday that it was moving to send him to Egypt instead.

Indonesia's Justice Minister, Yusril Ihza Mahendra, said a decision on Quassey, who is accused of organising the boat on which 353 people drowned on their way to Christmas Island in 2001, would probably be made in a fortnight.

In recent days, Indonesian and Egyptian officials had met to work out how Quassey could be sent back to Egypt, his country of birth.

Mr Mahendra said Indonesia had asked Egyptian authorities if they could prosecute Quassey for people smuggling offences if he was handed over to them. They had asked for two weeks to study the case and Egyptian law to determine if they could do so.

"If the Egyptian Government stated the man could be prosecuted, we will consider deporting him to Egypt rather than extraditing him to Australia," Mr Mahendra said.

Mr Mahendra did not explain why Indonesia appeared to favour sending Quassey to Egypt when the Australian Government says it is desperate to prosecute him for offences allegedly committed before the deadly sinking of the boat known as SIEV-X.

However, Mr Mahendra hinted it might be linked to Indonesia's displeasure with Australia's failure to extradite to Indonesia Hendra Rahardja, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in Indonesia when he was tried in absentia in 1999.

"I have spoken to Australia's justice minister, Australia's foreign minister and also the Australian ambassador. In fact it is too slow ... we have just received the news that the man [Rahardja] has died."

The Minister for Justice, Senator Chris Ellison, said he rejected suggestions that Australia had blocked Rahardja's extradition. The Government "has done everything it could that was legally possible to accommodate Indonesia's request". However, Rahardja had appealed to the NSW Supreme Court, the High Court and the Federal Court in his successful attempt to avoid extradition.

Senator Ellison also vowed to continue to pursue Quassey, even if he was sent to Egypt.

Quassey, also known as Mootaz Muhammad Hasan, is wanted on four Australian warrants, covering 76 people smuggling offences which could result in him facing up to 20 years in jail in Australia. He served six months in prison for visa offences last year and has since been held in an Indonesian immigration detention centre while Indonesian authorities work out what to do with him.


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