Smuggler trial will be long: jury told
By Anne Calverley
4 November 2003
The West Australian
THE trial of an alleged people- smuggler accused of sending almost 1700 boat people to Australia would not be straight- forward, a District Court jury in Perth was warned yesterday.
It took an hour alone to empanel the 15 jurors and another to read 56 charges to Keis Abd Rahim Asfoor before the trial got under way.
A total of 164 witnesses are listed to give evidence against the 33-year-old Palestinian-born defendant who has pleaded not guilty to organising or taking part in sending 1666 boat people to Australia between July 1999 and October 2001.
However, he did admit using a false Turkish passport to try to get into Australia shortly before his arrest.
Fifty passengers on the 13 boats who allegedly paid thousands of dollars for passage to Australia from Indonesia were expected to testify.
So to was a young Indonesian man granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his evidence about Mr Asfoor's alleged pivotal role in the operations.
The court was told that the sophisticated network began unravelling when an Australian surf shop owner in Bali contacted authorities after being asked if he had a boat.
Commonwealth crown prosecutor Ron Davies QC described Mr Asfoor as the key organiser who lied to passengers about the nature of the sea voyage.
He said the accused co-ordinated accommodation, transport and provisions for the thousands of passengers arriving in Indonesia from their homelands.
He said Mr Asfoor told them they would be safe after reaching Ashmore Reef in Australian waters. Mr Asfoor also advised them to destroy their passports before Australian authorities picked them up.
"He told them, 'You'll see an aeroplane on a boat and you'll know you're there'," Mr Davies said.
"He would take their money and get them into the hands of Australian authorities."
Mr Davies warned the jury that the trial would be complex and contain highly-detailed evidence about how the travel, boats and various bodies involved were arranged.
"In a normal criminal trial, Mr Bloggs is accused of wilfully murdering Smith by hitting him over the head with an axe," Mr Davies said.
"This is a very complex case and if today's any indication, it's going to take a long time."
The trial is expected to last five weeks and resumes today.