People smuggler got just deserts: Minister

By Carmelo Amalfi
The West Australian
29 December 2003

THE organiser of a people-smuggling operation in which 353 boat people drowned trying to enter Australia will spend seven years in jail in Egypt.

Federal Justice Minister Chris Ellison yesterday described as substantial the term set for Abu Quassey by a court in Cairo on Saturday for homicide through negligence and for aiding illegal migration.

Quassey, 37, an Egyptian, is expected to appeal.

Only 44 of the mainly Afghan and Iraqi people on the 19m boat - dubbed the SIEV-X - survived when it sank in October 2001 off the western tip of Java.

Quassey, also known as Mootaz Muhammad Hasan, was wanted by the Australian Government on four warrants for 76 people-smuggling offences, the most serious relating to the sinking of the SIEV-X.

Senator Ellison said the Government wanted to try Quassey on charges which carried jail terms of up to 20 years.

"We have some of the toughest laws in the world in terms of people smuggling," he said. "We are sending a clear message internationally that Australia is deadly serious on clamping down on the illegal people-smuggling trade."

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said some justice had been done and the sentence had given some comfort to the victims' families. It showed people smugglers that they could be prosecuted and jailed for a long time.

Asked if the term was enough to send such a message, Senator Ellison said: "It's seven years hard labour and I am not aware of any parole in the Egyptian legal system. I think getting a substantial period of jail sends out a message in itself. I don't think anyone would take seven years in jail lightly."

Senator Ellison said Australia did not plan to extradite Quassey after his sentence in Egypt, where he was sent by Indonesia in April. The Australian Government's bid to extradite him failed, mainly because Indonesia did not have laws against people smuggling.

Quassey's conviction on a charge similar to an Australian charge raised the question of double jeopardy. "We have never relented in our pursuit of Abu Quassey and his co-accused (Iraqi Khaleed Shnayf Daoed) is now before an Australian court," Senator Ellison said.

Mr Daoed, who allegedly helped organise the SIEV-X trip, was arrested in Sweden in May and extradited. He is expected to face about 13 charges and, if convicted, could face up to 20 years jail.

Quassey's lawyer, Mohammad Abdelatty, has alleged that his client was Mr Daoed's translator and that Mr Daoed had named Quassey.

Opposition justice and security spokesman Robert McClelland said Quassey should have been tried in Australia and given a life sentence because people had died.

People smuggling should come under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, which could impose standard sentences.

Labor thought it was a most heinous crime to exploit people's vulnerability, put them in peril and, in this case, cause loss of life, he said.



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