Vow to pursue people smuggler
By KIRSTEN LAWSON
People-smuggler Abu Qussey was a major fugitive on Australia's most-wanted list, Justice Minister Chris Ellison said yesterday, as the Egyptian national prepared to walk free from an Indonesian jail tomorrow.
"We will chase him and there will be no relenting in that pursuit, no matter where he goes or how long he lives," Senator Ellison said.
"He is one of the No 1, if not the No 1, fugitives that Australia is chasing."
But neither Senator Ellison nor the Indonesian Government could give any assurance that Qussey was likely to face an Australian court over the deaths of 353 boat people last year.
Australian authorities have hinted they have a plan for the capture of Qussey under which Indonesia would deport him to a third country from where he could be extradited to face court in Australia.
But Senator Ellison would not comment on the possibility yesterday, saying he did not want to "signal our shots".
"We believe will be deported but I stress that is a decision for the Indonesians," he said.
"Should he leave Indonesia, that opens up a range of options to us. I can't signal what those options are."
Qussey organised the SIEV X boat that sunk en route to Christmas Island in October last year, with 353 people drowned, many of them children.
The Senate has called for a judicial inquiry, after questions about whether the boat was sabotaged under Australia's "disruption" program to thwart people smugglers.
Retired diplomat Tony Kevin has accused police of deliberately not charging Qussey with people smuggling or homicide for fear of exposing the disruption activities.
"I find it total hypocrisy that Senator Ellison now says he will pursue Qussey to the ends of the earth, when at any time he could have ordered that the brief of evidence be provided to the Indonesian police so they could charge Qussey with these very serious offences," Mr Kevin said yesterday.
But Senator Ellison said Australia had nothing to fear from what Qussey might say in court.
Mr Kevin has been writing to Indonesian charges d'affaires in Canberra Imron Cotan in the lead-up to Qussey's release, in his most recent letter telling Mr Cotan it was not too late for his Government to do the right thing and ensure Qussey was held to account.
But Mr Cotan said yesterday Qussey had served his sentence on separate immigration offences, and Indonesia had no legal basis for holding him beyond tomorrow.
Indonesia could not charge him with homicide because the SIEV X had sunk outside Indonesian waters and was therefore beyond its jurisdiction.
"We are now trying to study the matter carefully," he said. "I have relayed the concerns and the information provided to me by Tony Kevin and we will see what my Government can do within again I would like to stress here within the framework of our judiciary system. We cannot arbitrarily detain people without any legal basis at all."
Australian police have issued a warrant for Qussey for people smuggling, but cannot extradite him because people smuggling is not a crime in Indonesia. They hope Qussey will be deported to a country where it is a crime, from where they can extradite him.
Democrats Leader Andrew Bartlett said Australia must insist that Indonesia charge Qussey with mass manslaughter.
Acting Labor Leader Jenny Macklin said it was a "bit rich" of the Government to show a sudden concern at the last minute.