Australia offers Egypt help in people smuggler case
7 September 2003

CANBERRA, Sept. 7 - Australia offered Egypt evidence on Monday for the trial of a suspected people smuggler charged with the manslaughter of 350 asylum seekers who drowned when a boat taking them to Australia from Indonesia sank in 2001.

Australia failed earlier this year to have Egyptian Mootaz Muhammad Hasan, alias Abu Quassey, extradited from Indonesia to face people-smuggling charges, which in Australia carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail. He was later extradited to Egypt.

'While we would rather Abu Quassey had faced an Australian court, we are delighted that the Egyptians are proceeding with a prosecution against him,' a spokesman for Justice Minister Chris Ellison said on Monday.

'The Ambassador for People Smuggling Issues together with officials...met with the Egyptian Ambassador to offer Egypt every assistance, including the provision of witness statements to support their prosecution of Abu Quassey,' he said.

A brief of evidence was prepared by Australia when it was trying to extradite Abu Quassey from Indonesia.

Abu Quassey went on trial in Cairo on Saturday charged with the manslaughter of 350 mainly Afghan and Iraqi nationals who drowned in October 2001 when their overcrowded vessel sank in the Indian Ocean en route to Australia.

The prosecutor, citing sources, said each family of five on the boat owned by Abu Quassey had paid $10,000 for their passage. The trial will resume on September 13.

Indonesia arrested Abu Quassey in November 2001 on suspicion of organising people-smuggling trips to Australia and jailed him for six months for visa violations but Indonesia lacks laws against people trafficking.

In February this year, Indonesia extradited Abu Quassey to Egypt and said it could not agree to an Australian request for his extradition there for 'technical reasons.' Australia has also asked that Iraqi national Khaleed Shnayf Daoed be extradited from Sweden. He is suspected of playing a key role in organising the ship's voyage and has been held in custody by Sweden since May.

People smuggling carries a maximum 20-year jail penalty in Australia which introduced tough immigration laws in 1999 and cracked down hard on illegal immigration two years ago, intercepting boats with asylum seekers and diverting them to Pacific islands.

The flow of boat people from Indonesia, a popular stepping stone for Middle Eastern and Afghan asylum seekers, has since dwindled to nothing.



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