Afghan’s arrest could break syndicate of people-smugglers

THEAUSTRALIANlogoA massive people-smuggling syndicate in Indonesia could soon be cracked wide open, after police seized two satellite phones, a laptop and financial records belonging to a teenage people-smuggler arrested in Jakarta.

Police also found 84 mobile phones formerly owned by asylum-seekers, and nine mobile phones personally owned by the teenager, presumably so he could switch between them rapidly and elude the police. Named Dawood Amiri or Hasyim Amiri, and known as Ervan, the Afghan national was a member of a people-smuggling network. Aged 19, Ervan has confessed to arranging at least four clandestine voyages to Australia.

Ervan’s Pakistani people-smuggling “agent”, named Sadik, was one of the 130 people rescued from the boat that sank on its way to Australia last month. Indonesian national police spokesman Anang Iskandar said authorities were now trying to determine whether the boat had been deliberately scuttled.

Another Indonesian police officer, who wanted to remain anonymous, said he suspected Ervan, like Sadik, had plans to soon travel to Australia posing as an asylum-seeker on one of the voyages he helped to organise. The people-smugglers’ bid to seek asylum in Australia follows the pattern set by the one-time asylum-seeker known as Captain Emad, or Ali al-Abassi.

He settled in Canberra after an allegedly successful career organising voyages to Australia. Captain Emad fled Australia after his identity and activities were revealed last month.Ervan had been living in Indonesia with his Indonesian girlfriend for two years before he was arrested on Friday.

General Anang said Ervan would be charged with human-trafficking offences under laws ratified by Indonesia earlier this year. “Ervan is a member of a network connected to a people-smuggling syndicate in Pakistan,” General Anang said.”He was assisted by Sadik, who joined the boat that sank on June 21. He (Sadik) survived, and now he is in Christmas Island.”

Australian Federal Police have since confirmed they have been informed of Ervan’s arrest, dubbing him a “key syndicate member”, although it remains unclear whether Sadik is under investigation in Australia.

Thought also to possibly have connections to jailed people-smuggling kingpin Sayed Abbas, Ervan has been detained at national police headquarters.The investigation into his network is ongoing, so police have been reluctant to release details about his capture and officers have declined to say how he was detected.

An investigation was also under way to determine whether Ervan had a role in organising a second fatal people-smuggling voyage that ended when the boat capsized and sank on its way to Australia last Wednesday.

Four people died and 130 were rescued after the second boat sank 13 nautical miles west of the point where the 90 or so victims drowned less than a week earlier. The survivors of the second boat — 113 men (including Sadik), three women, 12 boys and two girls — are on Christmas Island.

Indonesia has been cracking down on people-smugglers and their agents recently, but far more Indonesians than foreigners have been arrested. Last year, three foreigners and 24 Indonesians were arrested for people-smuggling, according to information from national police headquarters.

In the asylum-seeker enclaves of Cisarua, it is easy to buy a place on a voyage to Australia, and asylum-seekers say people-smugglers take care to ensure details of the voyage are kept secret.