Man in court over Christmas Island boat deaths
Last updated 05:00 15/11/2011
Extradition proceedings have begun in Auckland for an alleged people smuggler accused of organising the notorious SIEV X boat that sank in 2001 causing the deaths of over 350 people.
Iraq-born Maythem Radhi appeared in the Manukau District Court today where the Crown began extradition proceedings requested by the Australian government.
Crown lawyer Natalie Walker said Radhi was wanted on one count of facilitating a proposed entry of five or more non-citizens into Australia - a charge that carries a 20-year maximum prison term.
An Australian police statement of facts was read to the court in which Radhi was alleged to have been one of the principle organisers of the boat, later known as the SIEV X (Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel).
The boat-load of 421 asylum seekers sank in international waters south of Indonesia on October 18, 2001, en route to Christmas Island.
Officials estimated 146 children, 142 women and 65 men drowned when the 19.5m fishing boat sank.
Australian police alleged three men were responsible for organising the people-smuggling operation - Khaleed Daoed, Abu Quassey and Maythem Radhi.
Radhi was found living in South Auckland.
The "non-citizens", who were of Middle Eastern origin, travelled to Indonesia to make the journey between July and October 2001.
On October 18, 2001, passengers were transferred to a beach in Sumatra where they were ferried by boats on to the SIEV X.
"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 struck rough weather on October 19 and the boat sank.
Most of the passengers drowned but about 45 were rescued by fishing vessels and returned to Indonesia.
Australian police alleged that 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 in boarding the SIEV X.
Walker said the 10-year delay since the alleged offending was because Australian authorities were unable to locate Radhi, who settled in New Zealand on March 13, 2009.
New Zealand police detective Giles Hoy gave evidence on 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.