Siev X organiser sentenced to 7 years jail

AM - Monday 29 December 2003
Reporter: David Hardaker

DAVID HARDAKER: But first this morning, there's anger and disappointment over a sentence handed out to the Egyptian man found guilty of organising the voyage of the SIEV X, in which over 350 suspected asylum seekers were drowned while travelling to Australia just over two years ago. An Egyptian court has sentenced the organiser, Abu Quassey, to seven years' jail on a conviction of manslaughter.

We'll be hearing shortly from the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, shortly, for his reaction, but first, a former Australian diplomat, Tony Kevin, who's long campaigned for justice over the voyage of the SIEV X, maintains the Australian Government could have done more to achieve a sterner sentence for Abu Quassey.

I spoke to Mr Kevin a short time ago.

TONY KEVIN: I'm disappointed that the sentence was not more commensurate to the crime, the manslaughter of 353 people who drowned on their way to Australia.

I also find it disturbing that in all comment on the trial by Senators Ellison, by Amanda Vanstone, by Alexander Downer, there's no reference whatsoever to the unfinished business of the demanded inquiry by the Australian Senate into the Australian Government's people smuggling disruption program and its possible relationship to Abu Quassey.

DAVID HARDAKER: Well, the Australian authorities did of course attempt to bring Abu Quassey to Australian justice, by attempting to extradite him in April.

TONY KEVIN: They made several phoney attempts to extradite Quassey, both from Indonesia and from Egypt. They have never been serious about trying to bring Quassey to Australia. They have never, for example, indicated any interest in charging Quassey for the manslaughter of these people.

They have always addressed it, in terms of Abu Quassey being a people smuggler, the fact that Abu Quassey is apparently a murderer appears to be of little interest to them.

DAVID HARDAKER: The Egyptian authorities, though, have refused to hand over Quassey - they say they won't hand over Egyptian nationals to foreign jurisdictions like ours.

TONY KEVIN: That's correct, and Quassey now, having been convicted of manslaughter, assuming that his appeal is unsuccessful, couldn't go up under double jeopardy for a second manslaughter charge in Australia. That's extremely convenient for the Australian authorities, because they basically have been protecting Quassey since the beginning of the SIEV X tragedy.

DAVID HARDAKER: Well, what more could the Australian authorities have done?

TONY KEVIN: Well, the first thing the could do is to set up the independent full powers traditional inquiry that the Senate has three times called for, and that the Government has ignored. This is Australia's voyage, it is asked for a second voyager. We need to clear up the stench around what the Australian Government did.

DAVID HARDAKER: Do you have any evidence that the Australian Government knew what you alleged to be Abu Quassey's role to be, in other words working with Indonesian police on a journey which was meant to fail disastrously?

TONY KEVIN: There is a great deal of evidence that the Australian intelligence authorities were tracking Abu Quassey for several months before the SIEV X disaster. There's evidence that Quassey boats were allowed to reach Australia in order to build his reputation as a people smuggler.

There's evidence that a relative of Quassey arrived in Australia on one of those boats. There's evidence of Quassey working with unspecified Indonesian authorities. And there's evidence of Australia training Indonesian authorities in people smuggling disruption techniques. There's also evidence of Australia working with an admitted people smuggler who sank boats, a man called Kevin Ennis.

So there is a whole trail of circumstantial and ancillary evidence that leads to a situation in which the Senate has three times called on the Government to set up a full powers independent judicial inquiry - a demand that the Government has ignored, since he's in the custody of Egyptian authorities.

DAVID HARDAKER: Former Australian diplomat Tony Kevin.

Alexander Downer discusses Quassey sentence

AM - Monday 29 December 2003
Reporter: Ross Solly

DAVID HARDAKER: For his thoughts on the sentencing of Abu Quassey, the Foreign Minister Alexander Downer is speaking with Ross Solly in Canberra.

ROSS SOLLY: Good morning, Minister. Are you satisfied with the efforts the Australian Government made to get Abu Quassey to Australia to face justice?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, look, let me just say I don't know that I've heard on the radio program, of the credibility of AM, as much nonsense as I've just heard from Tony Kevin, that would have to be - to use an Australianism - "right out there", that kind of commentary.

Of course we've tried to extradite him, we tried to extradite him from Indonesia. To say that we didn't make an effort to do that is totally untrue, we took it up not just at officials level at ministerial level, and endeavoured to try to persuade the Indonesian Attorney General in particular to agree to the extradition to Australia - and he didn't agree to it, they sent him to Egypt, and he's been charged and he's been convicted in Egypt.

Now, should the sentence have been longer - we actually aren't responsible in Australia for the Egyptian courts and Egyptian jurisdiction, we have to live with the sentences that are handed down by foreign courts, we don't control those foreign courts.

ROSS SOLLY: Is there any prospect now of Abu Quassey being brought back to Australia at any stage?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I would assume that that would be fairly difficult. Obviously within the next seven years you'd have to assume that would be impossible - because he'll be in prison in Egypt - but beyond that, well that's obviously something we'd have to look at.

But we've always wanted to bring him to Australia, entirely contrary to the dishonest claims by Mr Kevin. It's completely dishonest to say those sorts of things. We've always tried to bring him to Australia, and to charge him and hopefully convict him here in Australia. We've not been able to do so, because he's been sent to Egypt by the Indonesians, where he's been charged and convicted anyway.

ROSS SOLLY: But Tony Kevin believes that Abu Quassey has information which would be embarrassing to your government.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Yeah, I mean, exactly, that's exactly my point. I mean, he's out there, this is the sort of claim that couldn't be taken seriously by anyone - he doesn't have information that's embarrassing to the Australian Government, we're trying to get the man put behind bars-

ROSS SOLLY: Well, why don't we now have a-

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Let me just make this point, that Mr Kevin seems to miss out on - we're not in favour of people smuggling, we're against it, and I would have thought almost anybody in the world would know that this was a government that had been very strong, not going necessarily down the populist path, but we've been very strong and very determined to stop people smuggling and to bring to justice people smugglers.

I mean, we passed laws through the Parliament to make for longer sentences for people smugglers.

ROSS SOLLY: Well, now this chapter's closed, Minister, will the Government now support a full powers investigation similar to the one that the Australian Senate has called for on three occasions?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: That's just a political stunt. I mean, you've got the-

ROSS SOLLY: But why shouldn't we have a full powers investigation to find out if there has been any role by Australian authorities in the whole affair?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, because there's nothing to investigate, and every crackpot who comes up with a demand for an investigation by the Australian Government, if we had investigations the Australian Government would not be involved in any other activity other than investigations.

ROSS SOLLY: But there is mystery, though, surrounding the activities of the people smuggling disruption program, isn't there? There's mystery surrounding that.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, this is an enormous mystery, the fact that the Australian Government is trying to stop people smuggling. The Australian Government has been trying to track down people smugglers, the Australian Government has been trying to get people smugglers brought to justice.

It's not a mystery, it's a fact. We are determined to stop people smuggling, and you know, these sort of crackpot theories that we're somehow tucked up in bed with people smugglers, I thought the criticism of the Australian Government was that we were too tough on these illegal migrants on asylum seekers, on people smugglers, that we should be softer on these people.

Well, look, I'll tell you what, we're going to remain tough, we're against people smugglers, we're not doing deals with people smugglers to facilitate their miserable trade, and it's a completely nutty theory to think that we would be.

ROSS SOLLY: Minister, thanks for joining AM this morning.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: It's a pleasure.

DAVID HARDAKER: The Foreign Minister Alexander Downer there with Ross Solly in Canberra.

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