Indonesia seeks 9-year jail term for people smuggling kingpin

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ROTE, Indonesia: Indonesian prosecutors Thursday sought a nine-year jail term for a suspected people smuggling kingpin accused of organizing an illegal migrant boat journey, in a case that sparked a diplomatic row with Australia.

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Abraham Louhenapessy, commonly known as “Captain Bram”, is on trial on remote eastern island of Rote for allegedly buying a boat and helping find a crew for a voyage intended to take 65 migrants to New Zealand in early 2015.

Louhenapessy is allegedly a notorious figure in the illicit trade that involves sending boatloads of migrants from Indonesia, a staging post on long-established people-smuggling routes, typically to Australia.

In closing arguments the state prosecutor urged the court to convict Louhenapessy and sentence him to nine years in jail and a 500 million rupiah fines ($37,400), slightly lower than the maximum penalty.

“In the trial proceedings, no excuse was found to pardon or justify the defendant, and therefore he must take responsibility for what he has done in accordance with the law,” prosecutor Alexander Sele told the Rote court.

Louhenapessy’s defense is due to begin next week and the court will then give its verdict and hand down a sentence.

The prosecutor said that Louhenapessy had received payment of 1.5 billion rupiah ($112,000) for his role in the smuggling scheme.

The boat, carrying Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi and Myanmar migrants, was stopped by the Australian navy in early 2015 as it passed through Australian waters and the passengers and crew were sent back to Indonesia in rickety vessels.

The crew claimed they were paid about $30,000 to turn back, angering Indonesian officials who worried that it could encourage an increase in people-smuggling attempts. Australia refused to comment on the claims.

The captain and crew from the boat were caught and jailed in Indonesia in January last year after being found guilty on people-smuggling charges.

Australia turns migrant boats back to Indonesia when it is safe to do so. The tough policy was introduced to stem the flow of migrants arriving on the country’s shores, but it has long angered Indonesian officials.

It is thought the migrants involved in the latest case were seeking to reach New Zealand, because the route to Australia was closed off. AFP

AFP/CC

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