Govt regrets Quassey foreign trial

Age (Online version)
December 28, 2003 - 4:05PM

The federal government regretted that people smuggler Abu Quassey was tried in Egypt and not Australia, where he would have faced up to 20 years jail for the death of 353 asylum seekers.

However, it may still try to extradite Quassey to face Australian justice after he has served his seven year sentence in an Egyptian jail.

Quassey escaped with the seven year term after a Cairo court found him guilty of manslaughter for organising the ill-fated voyage of Siev X, which sank on its way to Australia in October 2001, killing 353 people.

Quassey, also known as Moataz Attiya Mohamed Hassan, was sentenced to five years in jail for homicide through negligence and another two for aiding illegal migration.

The federal government sought unsuccessfully in April to extradite 37-year-old Quassey to Australia to answer people smuggling charges following his deportation from Indonesia to Egypt.

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer and Justice Minister Chris Ellison said they would have preferred to see Quassey face an Australian court "and had previously sought his extradition".

"However, we welcomed the decision by Egyptian authorities to prosecute him and offered Egypt as much assistance as legally possible," the ministers said.

"We've failed in one attempt to extradite him to Australia, and of course, now that he's been convicted of an offence similar to that which he might be charged with in Australia you have a question of double jeopardy," Senator Ellison said.

"That (extradition) is something we'd have to take advice on and it is something that is not an easy process."

Senator Ellison would not comment on the length of Quassey's sentence but said it was a deterrent for people smugglers.

"Seven years imprisonment with hard labour does send a message to people smugglers that if they are caught they will be facing lengthy periods of imprisonment," he said.

"Our efforts to bring Mr Abu Quassey to justice in Australia and then assisting the Egyptian authorities sends a very clear message that Australia is deadly serious about bringing these Mr Bigs to justice."

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said Quassey's jailing must bring some comfort to the families of the boat people who drowned.

The Cairo court heard that Quassey charged 400 asylum seekers, mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, $US1,000 ($A1,361) each to be taken to find work in Australia.

He placed them in an unsuitable vessel which foundered in high winds.

2003 AAP

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