Twelve years for people-smuggler

The Australian
FRI 30 JAN 2004

Source: AAP

ONE of Southeast Asia's most notorious people-smugglers has been jailed for 12 years for his part in a sophisticated operation that brought almost 1,700 illegal immigrants to Australia.

Iraqi-born Palestinian Keis Abd Rahim Asfoor was sentenced yesterday after a jury found he was one of the kingpins behind a human trafficking business that could have earned him and his partner more than $3million each.

After being found guilty of 12 charges by a Perth jury late last year, District Court Judge Shauna Deane yesterday set a total term of 12 years' jail, with a non-parole period of eight years, backdated to October 2001.

Judge Deane said the 33-year-old had charged hundreds of desperate refugees thousands of US dollars before herding them on to boats bound for Ashmore Reef, on the northern tip of Western Australia's coast. Despite protests from Asfoor's lawyer that his client had been acting out of humanitarian interest, the judge said she was satisfied his main motive was profit.

Judge Deane described how Asfoor had been so brazen he even told some of his passengers to let the Australian authorities know 'Keis had sent them'.

'This was a relatively sophisticated enterprise, and you played a critical and pivotal role. There is no evidence whatsoever you were answering to a higher authority,' Judge Deane said.

Asfoor's seven-week trial was hailed by the federal Government as the most significant people-smuggling case conducted in Australia.

Prosecutor Ron Davies said the operation was so successful Asfoor had become overwhelmed, and told a contact -- Australian Michael Williamson -- he wanted to get out of the business and move to Australia himself.

Mr Williamson then tipped off Australian Federal Police.

Asfoor's lawyer, Justine Fisher, said her client had been a stateless citizen after fleeing Iraq in 1995.

While in Indonesia awaiting a decision on whether he would be allowed into Australia as a refugee, she said, Asfoor twice tried to enter the country illegally before turning his hand to helping others make the journey.

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