People smuggler likely to be sent to Egypt

Matthew Moore
February 1 2003

Indonesia claims Australia's attempt to extradite Abu Quassey was half-hearted, reports Matthew Moore.

Australia had not seriously tried to extradite a people smuggler who organised a trip on which 353 people drowned, possibly because it did not want important questions about the disaster answered, it has been claimed.

Indonesian Justice Minister Yusril Ihza Mahendra said the Egyptian Government had been more serious in trying to get hold of Abu Quassey, an Egyptian national, than the Australian Government.

Australian Justice Minister Chris Ellison said yesterday he had been advised that if Abu Quassey was sent to Egypt, there would be no basis for prosecuting him for his alleged crimes. Abu Quassey is suspected of organising the refugee boat SIEV-X, which sank in October, 2001, killing 353 mainly Iraqi and Afghan refugees.

Extraditing him to Australia was still a matter of the "highest priority" despite Indonesia's plans to send him home, Senator Ellison said.

But in an interview with The Age, Mr Yusril revealed areas of deep distrust between the two governments.

He said no Australian minister had been in direct contact about the matter and he was suspicious about the reasons why the Australian Government had not made a more determined effort to bring Abu Quassey to Australia.

Asked why he believed the Australian Government might not want him in Australia he said: "I don't know . . . I don't want to talk about it, I have a lot of intelligence reports but I don't want to talk. That's the big question for me."

Since SIEV-X sank, questions have remained about the Australian Government's role in a campaign run in Indonesia to disrupt people smuggling.

Mr Yusril contrasted Australia's efforts to get hold of Abu Quassey with those of Egypt.

"Australia's ambassador never talked to me about the case of Abu Quassey," he said.

"There is no official interest from (Australia's) Minister of Legals (Justice), no diplomatic note sent by the Australian Government to our government, compared with the Egyptians.

"I think the Egyptian Government is more serious compared with the Australian Government regarding the case of Abu Quassey."

The fight for Abu Quassey started January 1 when he finished an eight-month prison sentence for visa offences he was charged with in the absence of any Indonesian laws on people smuggling.

For the past month he has been detained in an immigration centre in Jakarta while Indonesia decides his fate.

Mr Yusril said he took the matter to cabinet this week and discussed it with President Megawati Sukarnoputri before that. If Egypt gives a written guarantee it will prosecute him, he will be deported to Cairo.

Egypt's ambassador to Indonesia, Ezzat Saad, said that guarantee was now being prepared and that Abu Quassey would be prosecuted in Egypt for crimes relating to the deaths of the 353 people and face penalties of up to 20 years' jail.

Australia says it cannot extradite Abu Quassey because its extradition agreement with Indonesia covers only crimes common to both countries, and Indonesia has no offences for people smuggling.

Last month Australia asked Indonesia for "legal cooperation" to jointly investigate Abu Quassey under the same agreement used for the Bali investigation. That could have paved the way for Abu Quassey to be sent to Australia, Mr Yusril said.

Serious resentment over Australia's failure over two-and-a-half years to extradite the one person Indonesia has sought - corrupt Indonesian banker Henrda Raharja, who died this week - has helped ensure that will not happen.

Mr Yusril said Indonesia found it difficult to accept Australian explanations Mr Raharja could not be deported while his case was before the courts.

"I remember three months ago the Foreign Minister (Alexander Downer) and Minister for Justice came to my office and reported the extradition process would be started . . . but suddenly they said to me there was another challenge from Mr Raharja's lawyers," he said. "A lot of promises from the Australian side did not become reality."


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