SIEV-X Man May Face New Charges
Tim Dodd in Jakarta
Australian Financial Review
7 January 2003

Indonesia may get the Howard government off the hook by laying more charges against alleged people smuggler Abu Quassey, thus preventing his deportation from Indonesia, where he has just served a six-month jail sentence for a visa violation. A senior Indonesian immigration official, Lukmiardi, said yesterday that Mr Quassey could face charges of trying to illegally obtain an Indonesian passport and falsely holding identity cards which are reserved for Indonesian citizens. "We are still investigating the possibility of charging him," said Mr Lukmiardi, who added that the charges carried a penalty of up to five years' jail. Mr Quassey, an Egyptian, is accused of organising the fateful October 2001 voyage of the SIEV-X refugee boat in which 353 asylum seekers drowned. If he does face new charges in Jakarta it will save the Howard government from the embarrassment of seeing him deported from Indonesia and possibly winning his freedom.

If Mr Quassey were to succeed in leaving Indonesia, the government would face heavy criticism for being unable to exert sufficient pressure on Jakarta, which would undermine the recent improvement in Canberra-Jakarta ties. In spite of Indonesian resentment of Mr Howard's comments on pre-emptive action against terrorist threats in neighbouring countries, Australian- Indonesian relations are still riding high due to the successful co-operative investigation of the Bali bombings. However, if Indonesia does decide to deport Mr Quassey, Canberra hopes he will be put on a plane to Egypt via Bangkok or Singapore, where there is a chance he could be apprehended and extradited to Australia to face people-smuggling charges. Australia has not applied to extradite Mr Quassey from Indonesia.

Because Indonesia has no laws against people smuggling the Australia-Indonesia extradition treaty does not cover his case.

It is still uncertain whether SIEV-X sank in Indonesian or international waters, which means Mr Quassey is never likely to be directly charged in Indonesia over the boat's sinking.

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