Iraqi citizen Maythem Radhi, 43, has been arrested and charged by Australian Federal Police after being extradited from New Zealand for allegedly organising a people smuggling venture that resulted in the deaths of more than 350 people in 2001.
A statement by Australian Federal Police says he was taken into custody by AFP officers at Brisbane Airport on 18 October following his extradition from New Zealand. He appeared before Brisbane Magistrates Court on 19 October 2019 and has been remanded in custody to reappear in court on 31 October 2019.
The AFP statement says he has been charged with organising groups of non-citizens into Australia, contrary to section 232A of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth). The maximum penalty for this offence is 10 years imprisonment.
"It will be alleged that the man was part of a syndicate that organised the transportation of people on a fishing boat known as Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel (SIEV) X. Two other men have also faced court for their role in the 2001 venture. The vessel sank in international waters on 19 October 2001, resulting in the deaths of more than 350 people.
"The AFP investigation to identify those responsible for the SIEV X venture commenced in October 2001," the statement says.
"Police will allege in court that [Mr Radhi], then aged 24, took payments from the passengers. It will also be alleged that he helped facilitate the transportation and accommodation of people in Indonesia in preparation for their journey to Australia."
Extradition decision the "responsible thing to do"
The decision to allow Mr Radhi to be extradited was made by New Zealand's Justice Minister Andrew Little after the matter had gone through New Zealand courts to the Supreme Court.
Mr Little told RNZ on news of the extradition that the decision to go ahead with the extradition was the responsible thing to do.
He said the charges Mr Radhi faces are serious, relating to people trafficking and the deaths of hundreds of people at sea. "For the sake of the victims it was the responsible thing to do to ensure everything that could be done was done to ensure he answered to the charges."
Mr Little told RNZ he had negotiated with New Zealand and Australian immigration authorities for some time.
"The court was concerned Mr Radhi would be left in immigration limbo as a consequence of Australia's laws and Mr Radhi's immigration status in New Zealand. Throughout 2018 I negotiated with Australian and New Zealand immigration authorities to overcome the risk of 'immigration limbo' that Mr Radhi could have found himself in. I also consulted extensively with Mr Radhi's counsel throughout this year."
The matter came before the Supreme Court in 2017 (Radhi v District Court at Manukau  NZSC 198), with a majority of the Supreme Court allowing Mr Radhi's appeal against the Court of Appeal's decision that Mr Radhi's circumstances did not warrant a reference to the Minister of Justice under section 48(4)(a)(ii) of the Extradition Act 1999.
A key issue in the New Zealand proceedings was that if Mr Radhi was found guilty and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 12 months or more, he would be classed as an “excluded person” under the New Zealand Immigration Act 2009. In that event, there is no room for confidence that he would be permitted to return to New Zealand. The Supreme Court majority found it would be unjust or oppressive to surrender him to Australia before the Justice Minister had had the opportunity to consider the "immigration limbo issue".
Mr Little has told RNZ that Mr Rahdi will be able to return to New Zealand as a refugee if he's found guilty of people smuggling.