Pakistani denies people smuggling roleBy Tim Clarke
21 January 2004
A PAKISTANI national has appeared in the Western Australian District Court to deny charges he masterminded an operation to smuggle nearly 400 boat people to Australia in 2001.
Following his extradition from Thailand last year, Hasan Ayoub today pleaded not guilty to 12 charges of smuggling people to Australia between December 2000 and March 2001.
Ayoub, through an Urdu interpreter, twice attempted to tell the court that his name was in fact Naem Ahmed Chaudry.
Ayoub's solicitor Rod Keeley told the court the identity of the accused would be an issue at trial.
Commonwealth prosecutor Felicity Johnston told Judge Shauna Deane, QC, the Crown intended to apply to bring the trial forward.
Several passengers due to give evidence at the trial are in Australia on temporary protections visas, and their immigration status was unclear, Ms Johnston said outside the court.
The application to expedite the trial will be heard next month, with the Crown hopeful hearings can begin in April.
Ayoub is allegedly one of the big six people smugglers - so-called "snakeheads" - based in Indonesia in recent years. He faces 20 years in prison if found guilty.
He was first detained in Cambodia in July 2001, after authorities intercepted a boat crowded with hundreds of would-be refugees making for the open sea.
Ayoub's arrest followed a lengthy joint investigation by Australian Federal Police and the immigration department, aided by a number of overseas law-enforcement agencies.
It will be alleged passengers paid Ayoub for their passages as he attempted to pioneer a new route for people trafficking, using the southern Cambodian port of Sihanoukville as an embarkation point. He claims he was in the country selling carpets.
His extradition to Australia last July was hailed as a significant coup by the federal government, and since then Ayoub has been named in another major people smuggling case.
During the trial of Palestinian national Keis Abd Rahim Asfoor, convicted of smuggling up to 1700 people to Australia aboard fishing boats from Indonesia, Ayoub was named as one of a group involved in the operation.
Asfoor will be sentenced later this month.