This year’s resolution of a case dating back to 2009 involving the extradition and prosecution of a people smuggler illustrates the complexities involved in prosecuting crimes that cross jurisdictional and international boundaries. Afghan national Sayed Abbas (37) played a pivotal role in smuggling asylum seekers on boats from Indonesia to Australia between March 2009 and August 2011. In 2015, he was extradited to Australia from Indonesia to face 27 charges relating to people smuggling offences.
Mr Abbas organised and facilitated three boats, the SIEV 38, SIEV 41 and SIEV 260, which carried 209 asylum seekers to Australia. Passenger witnesses from each of the boats gave evidence of their direct dealings with Mr Abbas. They identified him as the person they negotiated prices with to travel to Australia on the boats, and as the person who collected payment. The cost of the journey ranged from US$5,000 to US$10,000.
Witnesses also said Mr Abbas arranged their accommodation in and transport to and around Indonesia, gave them instructions about their departure, and told them to destroy their passports before arriving in Australia.
Other witnesses said they were given Mr Abbas’ name and number as the person who could organise their travel from Indonesia to Australia by boat, before they had departed their country of origin. The witnesses giving evidence came from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.
Prosecuting this offence presented a number of challenges for the CDPP, including a lengthy extradition process. The request to extradite Mr Abbas was made in 2010. He was finally surrendered to Australian officials on 13 August 2015, who escorted him back to Perth where he was formally arrested.
Another challenge for prosecutors was proving Mr Abbas’ identity, particularly because much of the offending had taken place almost 10 years earlier. Passenger witnesses had identified the accused from photo boards in 2009 and 2012.
In addition, very few passenger witnesses could speak English. This meant a number of translators were required across different language groups, both in the lead up to the trial and during the hearings.
Mr Abbas’ involvement in facilitating three illegal boat arrivals to Australia was motivated by substantial financial reward.
In March 2018, Mr Abbas was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment, with a non-parole period of seven years and three months, backdated to start on 8 May 2012.
The CDPP successfully appealed this decision, and on 24 April 2019, Mr Abbas’ sentence was increased to 14 years’ with a non-parole period of nine years, backdated to start on 8 May 2012.
This means Mr Abbas will first be eligible for parole on 8 May 2021, rather than 8 August 2019.