Alleged people smuggler may stay in Auckland

Last updated 05:00 15/11/2011

Prosecutors face an uphill battle to extradite a man accused of organising a people smuggling boat that sank with the loss of 350 lives.

Iraq-born Maythem Radhi appeared in Manukau District Court yesterday over an Australian extradition warrant that alleged he had helped arrange the notorious SIEV X (Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel) boat which sank south of Indonesia in 2001.

The boat was en route from Sumatra, Indonesia, to the Australian territory of Christmas Island when it sank.

Radhi was found living in South Auckland earlier this year.

The extradition can only succeed if it is proved that New Zealand had a comparable law to Australia at the time of the alleged crime and that the New Zealand law carried a term of imprisonment of over one year.

The court heard yesterday that in 2001 the wording of the applicable New Zealand law said a person was liable to three months in prison or a fine in respect of each person who entered the country.

The legal argument seems set to revolve around whether the term of imprisonment can accumulate for each illegal entrant, which would lift the offence over the requisite one-year-in-prison benchmark, or whether that accumulation clause only referred to the fine.

The law was amended three months after the SIEV X sinking and was now in-line with the Australian law that carries a 20-year maximum prison term.

Crown counsel Natalie Walker read an Australian police statement of facts to the court in which Radhi was alleged to be one of the principal organisers of the SIEV X, along with two other men - Khaleed Daoed and Abu Quassey.

The 451 passengers, mostly of Middle Eastern origin, were crowded onto the 19.5m vessel.

''The SIEV X was so overcrowded that 20 passengers refused to board it and after several hours into the journey 23 passengers who were concerned about the vessel's safety negotiated with a fishing boat to take them back to Indonesia,'' Walker said.

The remaining passengers and crew stayed aboard the ship, which struck rough weather on October 19, with the boat then sinking.

Most of the passengers drowned but about 45 were rescued by fishing vessels and returned to Indonesia.

Australian police alleged Radhi was present during negotiations about price and terms of travel and that he received payments from some passengers, controlled their movements and accommodation, accompanied some of them to Sumatra and assisted some to board the SIEV X.

Walker said the 10-year delay since the alleged offending was attributable to Australian authorities being unable to find Radhi, who settled in New Zealand on March 13, 2009.

New Zealand police detective Giles Hoy gave evidence of locating and arresting Radhi at his South Auckland home.

He said Radhi confirmed he was the person in a photograph shown to him though he could not remember where or when it was taken.

The extradition hearing was adjourned to December 5 for the defence to prepare its submissions.

- Fairfax NZ

See also: Maythem Radhi

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