Australian sought over boat sinking

Tom Allard
December 30, 2011

AN AUSTRALIAN man is suspected of being involved in the syndicate that organised the vessel packed with asylum seekers that sunk off Java earlier this month leaving as many as 200 people dead, according to Indonesian authorities.

Indonesian investigators told the Herald they had provided the name of the man to the Australian Federal Police, saying the Australian was identified by several survivors as a key figure in the multinational people-smuggling network behind the doomed voyage.

The Australian leg of the investigation comes as more evidence emerges of corrupt Indonesian soldiers, police and immigration officials participating in the illegal venture.

According to an Indonesian police spokesman, Saud Usman Nasution, investigators gave the name of the man to the AFP last week, saying he was identified by several survivors as a key figure in the network.

The man was to have ''facilitated'' the asylum seekers once they reached Australia, presumably to assist them with immigration checks so they were processed as bona fide refugees.

''We have passed on the name of the Australian man - Mr X - to the AFP to follow up,'' Inspector-General Nasution said.

While four soldiers have been detained as ''witnesses'' for their involvement with two local owners of small boats that ferried the estimated 250 asylum seekers to their ''mother ship'' at sea, reports indicate more security personnel and officials were involved.

One of the 47 asylum seekers who survived, Muhammad Mehdi Muntaziri, told Indonesian reporters that police and immigration officials escorted the group from Jakarta to East Java in four buses.

''I am 100 per cent sure that it was a policeman and immigration officer who guarded me from Jakarta,'' he told the news portal.

But an AFP spokeswoman said last night that "the AFP has not received a referral from the Indonesian national police".

"The AFP has made no arrests in relation to this matter and this is a matter for the Indonesian authorities," she said.

Told of the AFP comments, General Nasution insisted the name had been passed on and the investigation was a joint effort by both countries' law enforcement agencies.

Two Indonesians who crewed the vessel have been detained after three days at sea and are understood to be co-operating with authorities.

General Nasution said police were making progress with the investigation into the venture, which earned the syndicate at least $1 million.

He said multiple suspects had been identified in Indonesia and in ''countries of origin'', understood to be Pakistan and Iran.

While the allegation of widespread involvement of Indonesian authorities remains unverified, such activities have been well documented in other people-smuggling operations.

Many Iranian asylum seekers say immigration officials at Jakarta's main airport let them through after a payment of $US500 each, knowing they did not have the correct visas and were destined for Australia by boat.

The 25-metre vessel, designed for 100 people, sank 13 days ago in rough seas some 40 nautical miles off Java. It was heading for Christmas Island and carried mostly Afghan and Iranians.

Some 103 bodies have been recovered but many more are thought to have been lost at sea.

A spokeswoman for the Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare, said he would not comment on operational matters.

Talks between the government and opposition on Australia's asylum seeker policy ended in a stalemate last week.

with Jessica Wright


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