People smuggler faces life (South Africa)
25 October 2003

Cairo - Egypt's prosecution called Saturday for an alleged people smuggler, accused of organising a voyage in which 353 asylum seekers drowned near Australia, to be sentenced to life in prison, court sources said.

Mootaz Muhammad Hasan, 37, has been on trial at a high state security court in Cairo since September 27 in connection with the deaths of the asylum seekers in October 2001.

He is charged with "causing death by mistake" and of "aiding and abetting the entry of aliens without effective travel documents," sources close to the case have said.

Verdicts in the court set up under emergency laws cannot be appealed, though Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak must approve them.

Hasan is accused of persuading the mostly Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani asylum seekers to pay $1 000 dollars each for a passage to Australia and jobs when they got there.

Their old, rickety boat went down in strong winds, killing 353 people.

But Hasan is pleading innocent.

Defence lawyers argued that he was nothing more than an interpreter for the real mastermind of the people smuggling - Khaled Sherif, an Iraqi, who was arrested in Sweden and since extradited to Australia.

Hasan was arrested in Indonesia last year and served time in jail there on visa violations, but Australia failed in an attempt to win his extradition as Indonesia has no laws against people smuggling.

He was instead deported to Egypt in April and Australia has vowed to pursue legal action against him.

The verdict will be delivered on December 27, a judiciary source said.


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