Accused smuggler 'bought' 40 boats
By Victoria Laurie
November 5, 2003
A PALESTINIAN alleged to be a key figure in the Indonesian people-smuggling trade was identified in court yesterday as ordering and paying for the purchase of up to 40 boats to bring asylum-seekers to Australia.
The number of boats, revealed on the second day of the trial of Keis Abd Al Rahim Asfoor, is far higher than the 17 vessels immigration authorities allege Mr Asfoor was involved in sending to Australia.
Mr Asfoor faces 55 charges and a 20-year jail term if found guilty of heading an Indonesian-based people-trafficking syndicate that authorities allege brought 1698 asylum-seekers aboard 17 boats to Australia between July 1999 and September 2001.
He was arrested in October 2001 by federal police after arriving in Perth from Jakarta. Yesterday, the Crown's first witness, Maidan Abdul Syaid, told Perth's District Court that Mr Asfoor, whom he called "Mr Keis", had directed him to buy between 35 and 40 boats to use in people-smuggling rackets. Their first meeting was in late 1998.
Mr Syaid admitted he had become involved in the smuggling trade while employed as a local council worker in Kupang, on the eastern Indonesian island of Flores.
Prosecutor Ron Davies QC earlier told the court the Indonesian national had been given immunity from prosecution so he would give evidence. Mr Syaid said he had been introduced to Mr Asfoor and two business associates in late 1998 and asked to secure boats and Indonesian crews.
Speaking through an interpreter, the witness described how he had been told the boats would be used for "immigrant people" who would be dropped off at Ashmore Reef, inside Australian territorial waters. Mr Syaid said Mr Asfoor had deposited money on a weekly or two-weekly basis into his personal bank account to cover the cost of buying boats, and food and lodgings for Iraqi and Afghan asylum-seekers in transit.
He said he had been paid a total of about six million rupiah, or about $1080, from Mr Asfoor for his services.
Mr Syaid said he was with Mr Asfoor at a beach on Flores Island when the first group of asylum-seekers was ferried by speedboat to a fishing boat waiting 100m offshore.
He then flew to Bali with Mr Asfoor and Majid Mahmood, an Iraqi man already named by Australian authorities as a people-smuggling suspect.
Mr Syaid said Mr Asfoor, whom he said speaks Indonesian "as good as mine", told him he would ring him when the boats reached Ashmore Reef.
Only then was Mr Syaid permitted to distribute wages to crew members' wives or family members living back in Indonesia.
Mr Asfoor, who denies involvement in the people-smuggling racket, was cautioned by Judge Shauna Deane for an outburst in which he accused the Indonesian interpreter of not translating Mr Syaid's answers correctly.