Another alleged SIEVX people smuggling refugee is sought by Australia but suspect Indonesian officials, not so much - and it only took ten years...
Next Monday in the Manukau District Court in New Zealand extradition proceedings will continue against alleged people smuggler Maythem Kamil Radhi for his alleged involvement in organising the fatal 2001 SIEVX voyage in which 353 asylum seekers lost their lives. 34 year old Radhi was arrested in New Zealand in late July following an extradition request from Australia.
Should New Zealand agree to surrender Radhi to Australia (and at this stage this appears far from certain) then
Radhi will be the third person to face criminal charges over SIEVX; Abu Quassey, the principal organiser was tried in Egypt in late 2003 and Khaleed Daoed in Brisbane in 2005.
Radhi was initially arrested in Indonesia three months after the sinking of SIEVX, in January 2002, along with fellow Iraqi, Khaleed Daoed. At the time of their arrest both Radhi and Daoed were UNHCR recognised refugees. The pair were held in custody for about four months while police investigated their connection with Abu Quassey and the sunken SIEVX vessel. Radhi and Daoed were never charged with any offence in Indonesia and were released and resettled as refugees in other countries - Daoed in Sweden in 2002, and Radhi (presumably) in New Zealand in 2009. Daoed was subsequently arrested in Sweden in May 2003, primarily as a result of an investigation by a Swedish policeman, and extradited to Australia in November of that year. He went on trial in Brisbane in 2005 where he was charged under the Migration Act for his role in the doomed SIEVX venture. He was sentenced to 9 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of four years and six months, commencing on 22 May 2003. He was released on parole on 21 November 2007 and remains on parole until 21 May 2012.
Six years ago, back in November 2005, a few months after the conviction of Khaleed Daoed, Greens Senator Christine Milne asked then Australian Federal Police (AFP) Commissioner Mick Keelty about his refusal to answer questions concerning SIEVX during the earlier Senate 'Certain Maritime Incident' Committee hearings in July 2002 and if he was able to answer them now that the Daoed case was over. Keelty indicated that the AFP were investigating 'a third person' and therefore he could not 'commit to a time' when he would be able to answer questions as he did not know how the AFP investigation would 'play out'.
I wrote at the time:
How long can Commissioner Keelty continue to shield himself and the AFP from scrutiny in regard to SIEVX and Australia's people smuggling disruption program in Indonesia by claiming that the law enforcement agency has an 'ongoing investigation' into the matter? If Maythem is found and arrested, will Keelty then find another shield in Maythem's brother [Maysar] who is also alleged to have had some involvement in organising the SIEVX voyage? As Senator Ray said of Commissioner Keelty during the debate in Parliament on the day after Senator Faulkner's historic adjournment speeches concerning the disruption program:
"If ever I have seen an evasive witness, it was him [Commissioner Keelty] at the estimates hearings and at the certain maritime incident inquiry. Why doesn't he front up and give straightforward evidence?"
I doubt anyone at the time would have envisaged that it would take a further six years before this investigation would bear fruit and that Commissioner Keelty would have retired from the force before a third man was apprehended.
Should current AFP Commissioner Tony Negus ever face questions from the Senate concerning SIEVX we would hope that he might be more forthcoming than his predecessor.
But in the meantime - what of any AFP investigation into the alleged Indonesian accomplices of Abu Quassey, the chief organiser of the ill-fated voyage?
SIEVX survivors have consistently reported the involvement of senior Indonesian officials in the SIEVX venture. The bus convoy to the Sumatran coast via ferry from Merak to Bakauheni was said to have been escorted by a number of Indonesian police and the passengers were guarded by police at the hotel where they stayed on the day they boarded the vessel. A photo of an Indonesian official in military uniform was reported to have hung on the wall at this hotel and it was claimed that Abu Quassey paid bribes to this man. Armed Indonesians in military uniforms were also said to have been present at the loading of SIEVX and there were also reports that they forced some passengers onto the vessel at gunpoint.
In April 2004 during the committal hearing of Khaleed Daoed in Brisbane, Daoed's lawyer, Walter Sofronoff QC, asked several highly pertinent questions of sole AFP witness Andrew Warton regarding the AFP's lack of pursuit of any Indonesian suspects in the case:
WS: In the evidence that you've collected for the purpose of this case there was evidence of Indonesian soldiers and an Indonesian Immigration official taking part in this smuggling operation?
AW: Certainly some of the witness statements contained those facts. Yes.
WS: And has a single Indonesian official been charged in relation to these matters?
AW: Not to my knowledge.
WS: Did you in the course of your investigation of this matter question a single Indonesian official in relation to this matter?
AW: I questioned a number of Indonesians in relation to this matter. We conducted enquiries in Indonesia and cooperating with Indonesian police so I asked questions of Indonesian police, yes.
WS: You understand what I mean. Did you question any Indonesian official as a possible suspect in this matter?
AW: No I didn't.
WS: Is there any reason why you didnít pursue that kind of line.
AW: The suspects in the investigation were Mr Daoed and others.
WS: But you had evidence from passengers who survived the capsize that an Indonesian officer whose photo hung on the wall received cash from Abu Quassey didnít you?
AW: There was certainly evidence contained in the statements to that effect. Yes.
WS: And you took not a single step to try and find out who that officer was? Not one, right?
AW: No, there was certainly steps taken in relation to a number of inquiries in Indonesia. Many of those steps were... taken prior to my taking carriage of this matter, that being mid-January of last year .
WS: Yes, Iím not asking you for a general answer. You took not a single step to identify that Indonesian official.
AW: Personally that is correct. I did not.
WS: Why not Mr Warton?
AW: Because the focus of the investigation was on those immediately, directly involved in this international people smuggling syndicate.
WS: Well an Indonesian official in uniform whose photo evidently as an immigration official in that country was mentioned in statements, is not somebody that you regarded as directly involved. Is that the reason?
AW: As I say those allegations were certainly raised with the statements. The focus of our investigation was on the principal offenders, mainly Mr Daoed and others.
WS: Well, Iím not sure I understand your distinction between an official who takes a bribe to permit this to happen and Mr Daoed. Whatís the distinction in terms of principal offender and otherwise?
AW: The distinction is when I took carriage of this matter - mid-January last year Ė the principal suspects in this case were Mr Daoed and others. I canít speak for what was done prior to that in relation to Indonesian inquiries but my focus was on the principal people who had organised the venture from beginning to end.
WS: The word Ďprincipalí is an adjective that a policeman applies to a suspect. Correct?
AW: Thatís correct.
WS: So whether somebody is a principal suspect or not depends upon whether you decide heís a principal suspect or not. Correct?
AW: To some degree I suppose, yes.
WS: And you had evidence from survivors that Daoed had some involvement and you pursued him, thatís right isnít it?
AW: Thatís correct.
WS: And of course you had evidence that Abu Quassey had some involvement, you pursued him, correct?
AW: Thatís correct.
WS: This man Maythem, I take it you made inquiries about him?
AW: Inquiries have been made, yes.
WS: And you couldnít find him, is that the problem?
AW: Your worship I seek to invoke public interest immunity on the grounds of an ongoing investigationÖ
WS: You donít want to answer thatÖ Alright. Righto.
In any event he didnít drop from your radar screen did he?
AW: Once again I think that goes towards current police investigations.
WS: Righto I wonít pursue that. But among all the people mentioned in the witness statements who are involved in this affair you took no steps to try to identify the Indonesian officer evidently involved in smuggling people into this country. Thatís right isnít it?
AW: Personally I didnít but as I say I canít speak for what occurred prior to my taking carriage of this matter.
WS: Youíre not aware of any such investigation?
AW: Not personally, no.
WS: And you donít know why Australian Law enforcement has exhibited no interest in finding that person and extraditing them?
AW: Thatís a question Iím not in a position to answer. Iím the case officer for this specific investigation. Thatís a matter well beyond my bounds. Thatís a policy question. Itís a broader question.
Seven and a half years on from this exchange and more than ten years after the sinking it appears no Indonesians have ever been charged with offences in relation to SIEVX. When we asked the AFP to confirm this, the reply was: 'As this matter is going through a judicial process, it is not appropriate for the AFP to comment at this time'.
During the 2010 people smuggling trial of Hadi Ahmadi, the defence raised similar questions about named senior Indonesian officials' involvement in people smuggling. In that trial however, suppression orders were issued by the court due to the possibility of negatively impacting on Australia's diplomatic ties with Indonesia.
Since September 2000 the AFP has been working with select groups of Indonesian police on the ground in Indonesia to disrupt and dismantle people smuggling syndicates purportedly in lawful ways that do not threaten safety of life at sea. But a cloud of suspicion has hung over Australia's covert people smuggling disruption program in regard to the 2001 SIEVX sinking following revelations on the esteemed but now defunct current affairs program 'Sunday' in 2002 by Ross Coulthart concerning an AFP informant and explosive speeches by Senator John Faulkner the same year. Unanswered questions include: 'Were disruption activities directed against Abu Quassey? Did these involve SIEVX?'
While we respect Australia's commitment to tirelessly pursue all non-Indonesian parties possibly involved in the organisation of the fatal SIEVX voyage, our 'hands off' policy when it comes to investigating any suspected Indonesian police or military involvement in this affair is deeply troubling.
1. Perhaps the best sources of survivor testimony regarding the involvement of Indonesian police and other Indonesian officials in the SIEVX venture are the transcripts or tapes of the committal and trial of Khaleed Daoed in Brisbane in 2004 and 2005 respectively. Neither of these sources are available online. In the absence of these sources, see instead Sue Hoffman's 'Notes from Trial of Khaleed Daoed' and the following works by SBS Arabic radio journalist Ghassan Nakhoul: