People smuggling Mr Big found guilty

By Roy Gibson
West Australian
20 December 2003

A MR BIG in the world of people smuggling was warned yesterday that he faced a long jail sentence for dumping more than 1500 desperate boat people on the northern tip of Australia.

After a seven-week trial in the District Court, a jury yesterday convicted Keis Abd Rahim Asfoor, 34, of 12 charges of people smuggling relating to the arrival of 12 boats at Ashmore Reef between 1999 and 2001.

Asfoor was said to be a key figure in an international network of contacts which helped people escape from Middle Eastern countries and travel via Jordan and Malaysia to Indonesia. Then, on dark and secluded beaches, they boarded flimsy boats for the hazardous trip to Australia.

Judge Shauna Deane told Asfoor: "The courts in this country must send a message to people like you - and any other people smugglers if they are caught - that this activity simply can't be tolerated."

Asfoor, who has been in custody for two years since arriving in Perth on a false passport, will be sentenced next month. Each charge carries a maximum of 20 years jail.

The officer-in-charge of the case, Federal agent Glen McEwan, said he was delighted at the outcome. Asfoor is the first people smuggler to stand trial in Australia.

Three others are in custody awaiting trials next year in Perth, Brisbane and Darwin.

The Australian authorities knew of the activities of Asfoor - and his alleged partner-in-crime Majid Basrawi - but they could not be touched as Australia has no extradition arrangements with Indonesia.

The two men collected an estimated $3 million from the 1500 passengers on the 12 boats they sent to Australia.

Asfoor's sophisticated network began unravelling when contact was made with an Australian businessman who operated a charter boat in Indonesia. Michael Williamson went to the Federal police and became an informant.

Asfoor eventually revealed to Mr Williamson that he wanted to get out of the people smuggling business and move to Australia with a false Turkish passport in the name of Imam Dogan. Authorities granted Asfoor a visa to enter Australia and set a trap for him.

On touchdown in Perth, Asfoor was arrested before he could leave the airport.

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