Monday 22 January 2018

Tony Abbott faces 'bribe' probe in people smuggler row

Tough approach: Tony Abbott
Tough approach: Tony Abbott

Jonathan Pearlman in Sydney

Tony Abbott, Australia's prime minister, faces a police investigation into an alleged "bribe" of £19,000 to people smugglers to turn back a boatload of migrants, as his most senior MP said it was a cheaper option than allowing asylum seekers to enter.

Despite Mr Abbott's continued refusal to comment on the alleged payments, Philip Ruddock, a former immigration minister and the longest-serving MP, said the government would be saving money by paying people smugglers to turn around. Like his leader, Mr Ruddock did not say whether the payments were made.

"The amount of money that was allegedly paid is nothing in comparison to the cost of processing the excessive amount of people who came to Australia as a result of people smuggling activity," he told the 'Herald Sun'.

"Having so many people come to Australia as a result of the hideous people smuggling trade and processing them in Australia cost millions and millions of dollars."

An Indonesian police chief on Rote island in Indonesia, where the asylum seekers came ashore last month, has claimed Australian border officials intercepted the vessel and gave $US5,000 to each of the six crew members to sail back.

Several of the 65 asylum seekers aboard the boat have also claimed they saw the payments being made.

International lawyers have said the alleged payments would be considered illegal and were tantamount to Australia funding people smuggling.

Indonesia has launched an investigation.

Mr Abbott has adopted one of the world's toughest approaches to asylum seekers, including towing back boats to Indonesia and detaining all arrivals in remote island detention centres.

The approach has effectively ended the arrival of boat people but has been labelled inhumane and potentially unlawful by rights groups and the United Nations.

Mr Abbott said:"This government does not feel the need to broadcast our intentions and our tactics to our enemies. The only thing that really counts is that this government has stopped the boats."

Mr Abbott could be investigated by the Australian Federal Police after the Greens requested an inquiry into whether Australian officials had broken the law.

Irish Independent

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