WA: Trial of alleged people smuggling kingpin begins
By Tim Clarke
3 November 2003
PERTH, Nov 3 AAP - A Palestinian man accused of being the kingpin of a people-smuggling operation which brought almost 1,700 illegal immigrants into Australia went on trial in Perth today.
Keis Abd Rahim Asfoor, 32, has denied allegations he was paid thousands of US dollars a time to arrange the smuggling of hundreds of asylum seekers aboard fishing boats from Indonesia.
As many as 50 asylum seekers will give evidence at the trial, which has taken more than two years to come to court.
Prosecutor Ron Davies, QC, outlined to the West Australian District Court how Asfoor allegedly arranged 13 different boatloads of Iraqi and Iranian asylum seekers to travel to Australia from March 1999 to September 2001.
Up to 353 people at a time would travel from Indonesia, usually Lombok, landing on Ashmore Reef, 610 kilometres north of Broome, off the WA coastline.
Mr Davies said Asfoor was the main architect of the smuggling operation, as those who travelled to Australia on his boats would testify.
"The evidence of the passenger's themselves will be highly relevant as to the fact of who organised the trips," Mr Davies said.
"They will tell you how they were put in hotels, in buses, in four-wheel drives, in taxis, in ferries, in little boats and then in bigger boats, having paid hundreds or thousands of US dollars for the privilege."
The prosecution's first witness will be Maidan Syaid, who the Crown say was Asfoor's assistant, buying boats and stocking them for the trips to Australia.
Asfoor is said to have placed millions of Indonesian rupiahs into Mr Syaid's bank account to buy the smuggling vessels.
Mr Syaid had since been given immunity from prosecution in return for evidence, Mr Davies said.
The court will also hear from Australian Michael Williamson, a 66-year-old surf shop owner who lives in Indonesia and was allegedly approached by Asfoor who asked if he had a boat capable of carrying people to Australia.
Williamson, Mr Davies told the jury, became an Australian Federal Police informant during the investigation.
Asfoor, also known as Imam Dogan, is facing 13 charges of people smuggling, with 42 alternative counts naming people he allegedly smuggled into the country between March 1999 and September 2001.
The 32 year-old was captured at Perth International Airport in October 2001, when he tried to enter the country on a false Turkish passport in the name of Imam Dogan.
He today pleaded guilty to using a false passport on the day of his arrest.
The trial - expected to last five weeks - will resume tomorrow.