Trial casts light on people smuggling

Lloyd Jones
August 12, 2010
AAP

A 10-week jury trial in Perth has revealed the workaday lives of people smugglers in Indonesia and covert Australian Federal Police operations to thwart them.

Iraqi-Iranian man Hadi Ahmadi has been found guilty on two charges of illegally assisting 562 asylum seekers to reach Australia on two boats in 2001.

But the jury in the District Court in Perth on Wednesday night found the 35-year-old albino man not guilty on a third charge and could not reach a verdict on a fourth after three days of deliberation. Advertisement: Story continues below

In May 2009, Ahmadi became the first person to be extradited to Australia from Indonesia on people smuggling charges following an agreement between Canberra and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Ahmadi pleaded not guilty to charges of illegally assisting more than 900 asylum seekers to reach Christmas Island on four boats between March and August 2001.

The trial heard from dozens of witnesses including convicted people smugglers who have served time in Australian jails and former asylum seekers who have been granted residency.

A picture emerged of Ahmadi's low-level role in people smuggling operations co-ordinated out of Jakarta.

The jury heard he had escaped persecution in Iraq where his father, a Shi'ite cleric, had been killed during a failed uprising against Saddam Hussein in 1991 during the first Gulf War.

Ahmadi, who has been recognised as a refugee by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, twice tried to reach Australia by boat, but engine failure and a storm foiled those attempts.

He ended up assisting people smugglers, finding accommodation for asylum seekers, collecting fees and taking them by bus to beaches where boats were waiting to take them to Australian waters.

Ahmadi told the court he helped them for free out of a sense of duty and compassion for people who could face persecution or death if deported back to their countries.

Defence lawyer Jonathan Davies said Ahmadi had been the victim of a people smuggler, losing $US2000 ($A2240) in his failed attempts to reach Australia.

"He lost his own money to a people smuggler ... and did what he did to survive and help his fellow refugees."

The court heard that Ahmadi had been approached by Australian officials in Jakarta to work undercover for them against the people smugglers, but he had declined.

A convicted people smuggler whose name was suppressed said he saw Ahmadi many times in Jakarta hotels at people smuggling meetings and on beaches where boats were loaded with asylum seekers.

The witness, who has served prison time in Australia but had his sentence cut for assisting authorities, said such operations needed a lot of funds "including to pay authorities to do what I have to do".

He said Indonesian immigration authorities didn't "give a damn" and if asylum seekers didn't get into trouble they could stay anywhere and go about freely even if they overstayed their visas.

An Iraqi asylum seeker who worked for people smugglers in Java while acting as a paid informant for Australian Federal Police (AFP) told the court he worked alongside Ahmadi in 2001.

Waleed Sultani, a former tank commander in the Iraqi army and now an Australian citizen, said Ahmadi collected money from passengers in US dollars to pay a people smuggling organiser.

Sultani said he regularly reported to the Australian embassy in Jakarta on people smuggling activities and considered it payback after he lost $US2000 ($A2240) to a smuggler who failed to get him to Australia.

He gave evidence in the trials of other people smugglers and said he received a $250,000 reward for his work for the AFP.

Sultani said Ahmadi's family was well known in Iraq and "of very high character".

Ahmadi faces a maximum 20-year jail term when sentenced by Judge Andrew Stavrianou on September 23.

AAP

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