People-smuggler to elude murder charge
December 14 2002
By Annabel Crabb
The people-smuggler who is believed to have sent 353 illegal immigrants to their deaths aboard the SIEV-X vessel last year will not be charged with murder because the Australian Government cannot say where the boat sank.
Justice Minister Chris Ellison has advised the Senate that Egyptian national Abu Quassey, held in an Indonesian prison, is likely to walk free on New Year's Day.
"In relation to a potential murder charge in either the Australian or Indonesian jurisdiction, the AFP (Australian Federal Police) has not been able to establish the location where SIEV-X sank, therefore it is not possible to establish the relevant jurisdiction for any prosecution relating to the deaths on board," Senator Ellison wrote in response to a question from Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett.
The AFP this week issued its fourth warrant for Quassey's arrest on people-smuggling offences. The latest is directly related to the SIEV-X mission, which ended in tragedy in October last year when the vessel sank, drowning 353 asylum seekers heading for Australia.
But Senator Ellison warned Australia was currently unable to extradite Quassey.
"As people-smuggling is not currently an offence in Indonesia, the dual criminality required for Australia to request his extradition from Indonesia does not currently exist," he said. "Australia respects that Indonesia, as a sovereign state, must make its own decision whether or not to investigate any particular matter."
Senator Bartlett said the response was "unsatisfactory".
"I just find it astonishing that 353 people died, but because you can't figure out exactly where they died you can't touch the person who allegedly had a lot to do with it."
The government, during last year's election campaign, insisted that the boat had sunk in Indonesian waters.
But in September this year a declassified intelligence note provided to the children-overboard inquiry revealed Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock's department had been advised on October 23 that "when about 60 nautical miles south of the Sunda Strait, the boat began taking water and finally capsized and sank".
Former diplomat Tony Kevin has claimed the government is unwilling to extradite Quassey because of what he might reveal about the disruption program run on people-smuggling vessels leaving Indonesia.
But Dr Jean-Pierre Fonteyne, senior lecturer in international law at the Australian National University, said Australian authorities would be unable to prosecute Quassey whether the boat had been in international or Indonesian waters.
"There's a lot of wishful thinking that goes into the statements of non-experts," he said.
"If it was in international waters, then the only state that would have jurisdiction would be Indonesia, assuming that the vessel was registered in Indonesia."