Egypt, Aust seek man's extradition
The Australian
6 February 2003

THE fate of an alleged people smuggler remained in limbo, as Egypt and Australia differed over the right to extradite him from Indonesia.

Abu Quassey was arrested on immigration charges in Jakarta in November 2001, a month after the sinking of an Australia-bound boat that killed 374 people, most of them believed to be asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Quassey has acknowledged that he organised the asylum seekers' voyage, but denies responsibility for the deaths.

He remains in an Indonesian detention centre after serving a six-month jail sentence for overstaying his visa.

Quassey is being questioned over additional charges of counterfeiting an Indonesian identification card for himself.

Australia said it wanted to try Quassey for the passengers' deaths and issued international warrants for his arrest. Egypt says it also wants to charge Quassey, who holds an Egyptian passport.

Indonesia has hinted it will extradite Quassey to Egypt because its extradition treaty with Australia does not cover people smuggling. If sent to Australia, Quassey could receive a 20-year prison sentence. It remains unclear what punishment he would face in Egypt.

Complicating matters are Indonesia's suggestions that Quassey may face additional charges here.

Indonesia's Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yusril Ihza Mahendra said today that Quassey was being questioned over the possession of fake documents - a felony which carries a maximum sentence of 30 months in jail.

After meeting diplomats from Australia and Egypt, Mahendra said Quassey's fate remained unresolved.

"My decision will be in the best interest of the nation," Mahendra said. "So far, we have not decided whether to deport him to Australia or Egypt."

The Egyptian embassy said in a statement that its ambassador, Ezzet Saad El Sayed, had asked Mahendra today to turn over Quassey "as soon as possible."

"The ambassador emphasised the fact that there are no legal grounds whatsoever for any other country, including Australia, to have (Quassey) extradited," the embassy statement said.

"Furthermore, the ambassador informed (Mahendra) that Egypt is expecting the hand-over as soon as possible."

Yesterday, Australia's Justice Minister Chris Ellison said his government was determined to bring Quassey to trial in an Australian court.

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