2 alleged people smugglers appear in Aussie court

AP News
Posted: Oct 06, 2011 1:13 AM
2 alleged people smugglers appear in Aussie court

Two men appeared in an Australian court on Thursday charged with being part of a people smuggling ring that brought Iranian and Iraqi asylum seekers to Australia by boat from Indonesia.

Ali Haidari, 36, and Lamis Alli Baighi, 34, did not enter pleas when they appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Thursday. Haidari faces two people smuggling charges that carry a maximum of 30 years in prison. Baighi faces a single charge carrying a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Police Supt. Stephan Obers said the pair were arrested Wednesday in Melbourne as part of a 10-month undercover police operation. Documents and computers were also seized Wednesday in police raids in two states. Further charges are expected, he said.

Obers alleged the pair were "key facilitators in" in the ring.

"We have taken a significant chunk out of that international syndicate," Obers said.

Obers said the ring charged each asylum seeker between $4,500 and $10,000 for boat passage to Australia.

People smuggling is a burning political issue in Australia, with 2,572 asylum seekers arriving aboard 42 boats from Indonesia and Malaysia so far this year. Obers could not say how many of those that the ring was suspected of smuggling.

The refugee hopefuls from countries such as Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iran and Iraq typically fly to Indonesia and then continue to Australia by sea on board cramped, rickety boats.

A government plan to discourage asylum seeker from making the journey by flying new arrivals to Malaysia to have their refugee claims processed was thwarted when the Australian High Court ruled it illegal.