People smuggler ‘mastermind’ sentenced

people smugglingA Sri Lankan people smuggler who helped organise the boat on which Australian officials allegedly paid crew more than $US30,000 ($NZ44,576.52) to turn back from New Zealand has been sentenced to five and a half years.

Kugan, also known as Vishvanathan Thineshkumar, was described by prosecutors as the “mastermind” behind the failed journey on which 65 asylum seekers boarded a boat bound for New Zealand in May last year.

During the voyage, the boat’s crew claim they were intercepted by the Australian Border force who paid them cash to turn back.

In sentencing Kugan at Rote Ndao District Court in Indonesia this week, Chief Judge Ary Wahyu Irawan found he had been responsible for recruiting the immigrants and collecting money.

“What the defendant did, as a Sri Lankan citizen, could encourage the act of recruiting immigrants as well as the smuggling of foreign people illegally in Indonesia,” the judge said. But he also found Kugan, who has been in custody since his arrest in July last year, carried the “burden of wife and children” and had no job. “The defendant is also an immigrant,” he added.

Kugan is the last of seven men to face sentencing over the case, which was the focus of a Senate inquiry in Canberra last month.

Five Indonesian fisherman told their trial late last year they were handed $US32,000 ($NZ47,548.29) in cash by Australian officials to turn the boat back and never repeat the venture. The captain, Yohanis Humiang, 35, has previously said he negotiated the payment, which was given as capital to start a new business.

An asylum seeker aboard the vessel, Abdul Malek Molah of Myanmar, also told an Indonesian court he saw the cash being handed over.

The crew were each sentenced to five years in January, while Yohanis was jailed for five years and eight months.

Kugan’s lawyer Yanto Ekon said his client would appeal his sentence as he wasn’t the “main actor” in the smuggling case. Prosecutor Alexander Sale said they would also request a review of the sentence as it fell way below the 13 years they had been pushing for. (Newswire)

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