World Bulletin / News Desk
Indonesian police confirmed Saturday that they have arrested an alleged people smuggler accused of helping organize voyages for asylum seekers trying to reach Australia and New Zealand.
Authorities believe Abraham Louhenapessy, also known as Captain Bram, masterminded an attempt to smuggle 65 asylum seekers -- mostly Sri Lankans -- to New Zealand on a vessel intercepted by Australian border control authorities in May 2015.
After its crew accused Australia’s navy of paying them thousands to turn the boat back to Indonesian waters, Australia’s former Prime Minister Tony Abbott had refrained from denying the claims, insisting they would “stop the boats by hook or by crook” under the country’s hardline immigration policy.
The head of the Indonesian national police’s crimes directorate-general told Anadolu Agency on Saturday that Louhenapessy, 56, had been a fugitive since 2015 and was finally captured in West Jakarta province overnight Thursday.
"He worked as a coordinator for asylum seekers and brought them to New Zealand," Commissioner Sulistiyono said.
Referring to the last year’s smuggling attempt, he said each passenger had paid the syndicate around $4,000-$8,000.
“In each departure, the syndicate can get $325,000, or about 4 billion rupiah," he underlined.
Louhenapessy will be sent to the island of Rote, where the boat intercepted by Australia last year had returned, and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.
Indonesian police are still hunting for a Sri Lankan member of the syndicate identified as Suresh who allegedly also masterminded the smuggling attempt, which involved 54 Sri Lankans, 10 Bangladeshis and one Myanmar national.
The arrest of Louhenapessy was welcomed by Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and Justice Minister Michael Keenan in a statement Saturday.
"We know that Captain Bram is a key player in the people smuggling networks across Indonesia, and we congratulate the Indonesian National Police on their determination to stop this criminal from risking the lives of anymore vulnerable people," Dutton said.
"I'd like to acknowledge the sustained efforts of the Indonesian Police in tracking down Captain Bram, but we know there are more criminal people smugglers out there, and we will continue to work with our regional partners to bring them to justice," Keenan stressed.
In 2013, Australia launched military-led Operation Sovereign Borders to stop anyone -- including refugees and people seeking asylum, many of who use Indonesia as a transit point -- from reaching the country irregularly by boat.
Under Australia’s widely criticized immigration policy, asylum seekers who arrive by boat are held at offshore detention centers on the tiny Pacific island of Nauru and Papua New Guinea during processing procedures.