Australian bid to get smuggler

The Age
February 8 2003
By Andrew Webster, Matthew Moore

Australia has begun attempts to bring alleged people smuggler Abu Quassey to Australia to face court over 350 drownings.

Justice Minister Chris Ellison said yesterday that Australia had put in a "provisional arrest" request to Indonesia as a first step to having Abu Quassey extradited.

Abu Quassey, who is in an immigration detention centre in Jakarta, has been accused of organising a boat that sank in 2001, killing more than 350 mainly Iraqi and Afghan asylum seekers trying to get to Australia.

Last week, Indonesian Justice Minister Yusril Ihza Mahendra said Australia had not made a serious attempt to extradite him, possibly because it did not want important questions about the disaster answered.

But a spokesman for Senator Ellison said a request for a provisional arrest was necessary to ensure that Abu Quassey was not released before any request for extradition.

"This request for provisional arrest is part of an ongoing attempt by the Australian Government to have Abu Quassey brought to justice in Australia," Senator Ellison said.

Mr Yusril confirmed yesterday that he had received a request from Senator Ellison. But he said he had also received a letter from Egyptian authorities guaranteeing that they would prosecute Abu Quassey if he was handed over. He was not able to say what charges they would file.

Whether Abu Quassey, whose real name is Mootaz Muhammad Husan, will ever be prosecuted for his role in the tragedy may be known within days, with Mr Yusril saying he expects to make a decision on where he will go before Prime Minister John Howard arrives in Indonesia next Friday.

Since Mr Yusril said last week that Egypt was more determined to get hold of the people smuggler than Australia, a five-member team of Australian lawyers and other experts flew to Indonesia to discuss how he could be sent here.

Australia has guaranteed to help Indonesia recover money brought to Australia by corrupt banker Hendra Rahardja who died in Australia a fortnight ago. Indonesia has been frustrated by an unsuccessful campaign to extradite him.

Last week the Egyptian ambassador to Indonesia, Ezzat Saad, said Abu Quassey would be prosecuted for crimes relating to the deaths of the 353 people, but he could not say what law he had breached or how a case would be put together.

"We expect that the Australian authorities will come up with certain evidence," he said.

Asked if he believed Abu Quassey should be prosecuted, Mr Yusril said: "This is not a problem of believing or not believing... what is the benefit for us. (Is there) any benefit for the national interest?"


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