12 years for 'snakehead' smuggler

By Simone Pitsis
December 17, 2004

THE mastermind of a people-smuggling syndicate who received more than $US1 million ($1.3 million) from asylum-seekers was yesterday jailed for 12 years.

Hasan Ayoub, convicted in November of two counts of people-smuggling, sat emotionless in the West Australian District Court as Judge Peter Nisbet sentenced him to two terms of imprisonment.

During his three-week trial, the 34-year-old was referred to as the "people-smuggling snakehead" who masterminded the operation to bring 399 Iraqi, Iranian, Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum-seekers from Indonesia to Australia in two boats in 2001.

"A supply line fed refugees from the Middle East and Afghanistan to you in Indonesia where you cynically took advantage of the endemic corruption in that country to buy the Customs and immigration officials and the police to assist you in your illegal activities," Judge Nisbet said.

"Your actions involved the cynical manipulation and abuse of the trust of people who are often at the lowest ebb of their lives, having fled their countries, their families and their jobs in many cases to avoid persecution."

The first boat, the Flinders, landed on Christmas Island in March 2001 and the second, the Nullawarre, almost a month later, with people paying as much as $US12,000 to board either of the vessels.

The court was told that when up to 400 asylum-seekers tried to board the Flinders it began to sink and people were forced to return to the shore.

Passengers separated from families were allowed to rejoin the boat and were ferried to the ill-equipped vessel by smaller boats before it departed with about 200 asylum- seekers on board.

Judge Nisbet said the circumstances surrounding the despatching of the two boats was "distressing", particularly because Ayoub sent the asylum-seekers to Australia knowing they might have their refugee status challenged.

He said the conditions on the small, overcrowded boats must have been "appalling".

Extradited from Thailand in July 2003 to face the charges, Ayoub, a Pakistani national also known as Naeem Ahamad Chaudry, refused to co-operate with Australian authorities.

Judge Nisbet said that when Ayoub went to trial he attempted to disguise himself in order to confuse prosecution witnesses who would not be able to identify him.

But the identification evidence against Ayoub was strong, said Judge Nisbet, and there was no dispute the 34-year-old was the man seen in a video surveillance film taken by Australian authorities in Jakarta.

"People smugglers like you need to be effectively deterred," he said. "And undoubtedly the word will get back to would-be people-smugglers to Australia that .. .when they are caught they are sent to jail for considerable periods of time."

The judge said that while people-smuggling was an "appalling crime" warranting severe punishment, the two offences were part of a "continuing course of conduct" and the 10- and 12-year jail terms he was sentenced to should be served at the same time. The 34-year-old has been in custody since 2001 and will be eligible for parole in 2008.

The Australian

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