People Smuggler Gives Evidence In Perth

People Smuggler Gives Evidence in Perth

By Lloyd Jones
The Sydney Morning Herald, June 3, 2010

A convicted people smuggler has told a Perth court he had to pay off authorities in Indonesia when he organised boats to take asylum seekers to Australia.

The Indonesian man, whose identity has been suppressed, told the District Court on Thursday he operated as a people smuggler both to help asylum seekers and make money.

He was called as a witness in the case of Iraqi man Hadi Ahmadi, who was extradited to Australia from Indonesia on people-smuggling charges in May 2009.

Ahmadi, 34, has pleaded not guilty to 21 charges of illegally assisting more than 900 asylum seekers on four boats to reach Christmas Island between March and August 2001.

Giving evidence on Thursday, the convicted people smuggler said he saw Ahmadi many times at people smuggling meetings in Jakarta hotels and on beaches where boats were loaded with asylum seekers.

Following an application by lawyers acting for the Australian Federal Police, Judge Andrew Stavrianou suppressed publication of the convicted smuggler's name and any evidence that might identify him.

The man told the court he would book bungalows on a beach with a jetty and arrange a large boat to stand off the beach while smaller boats ferried asylum seekers out to it.

Up to 300 passengers would be loaded on the big vessels for the trip to Christmas Island or elsewhere in Australian waters, he said.

The witness, who served prison time in Australia but had his sentence cut for assisting authorities, said that when he organised people smuggling in 2000 and 2001 there were many asylum seekers wanting boats.

He said he saw Ahmadi many times at beach departure points, organising passengers he had brought there by bus.

Speaking through an interpreter, the man said such operations needed a lot of funds to cover costs 'including to pay authorities to do what I have to do'.

'I knew this was an illegal job and very high risk … can you prepare a boat to go to Australia for free?'

The witness said that at the time, no one got deported and Indonesian immigration authorities didn't 'give a damn about this'.

'As long as they (asylum seekers) don't break the law or get in trouble, even if they overstay their visa, they can stay anywhere and walk free.'

The witness said he wanted to help asylum seekers for humanitarian reasons, knowing they had fled from threats in their own countries.

He said he had pleaded guilty to people smuggling, feeling he had to take responsibility for his actions and turn his life around.

'It's a moral call that I have to settle,' he told the court.

The jury trial continues and is set down for 10 weeks.