Smuggle suspect gang sought
By Don Greenlees - Jakarta correspondent
8 November 2001

POLICE are hunting for four accomplices of detained people-smuggler Abu Quassey, the man behind the refugee boat that sank in the Sunda Strait with the loss of more than 350 lives.

Mr Quassey, in custody at national police headquarters in Jakarta after his arrest on Tuesday, could be held for as long as 30 days as a 'suspect' before charges are laid. Despite an earlier offer from Australia to extradite and prosecute people-smugglers, Mr Quassey is more likely to face legal proceedings in Indonesia.

Australian and Indonesian officials are negotiating arrangements to include human trafficking among 33 offences covered in an extradition treaty.

But Mr Quassey, who was questioned by immigration authorities in Jakarta yesterday, could also be deported to his native Egypt in the event insufficient evidence is found to justify legal proceedings.

The capture of Mr Quassey follows an intensive hunt by Indonesian police after the sinking of the boat carrying mainly Iraqi asylum-seekers from South Sumatra to Christmas Island on October 19.

Only 44 of almost 400 passengers survived. Police established a special team two weeks ago to search for the smuggler and tracked him to the city of Bandung, in West Java, last Sunday, where Mr Quassey is believed to have an Indonesian wife and child. He was arrested in the company of the man police say is his main assistant in the smuggling business. The smugglers could face manslaughter charges.

Indonesia is yet to pass any laws on human trafficking, meaning proof of manslaughter is likely to be the best hope for a successful prosecution. Police will have no shortage of witnesses willing to give evidence against Mr Quassey. The 44 survivors are being held at a guesthouse south of Jakarta and have told journalists they hold Mr Quassey responsible for the disaster.

Shortly after news of the sinking broke, police in the Sumatran province of Riau arrested two police sergeants accused of protecting Mr Quassey when he put the rotting and leaky fishing boat to sea with the asylum-seekers on board.

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