An alleged high-level people smuggler extradited from Indonesia to Australia to face 43 criminal charges intends to plead not guilty, his lawyer said.
Iranian national Mohammad Naghi Karimi Azar is accused of being involved in extensive people smuggling operations, facilitating the passage of more than 70 men and women to Australia over a nearly two-year period between 2011 and 2013.
Mr Karimi Azar’s lawyer Sayar Dehsabzi said his client told him that he had fled persecution in Iran and had registered as a refugee with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Indonesia.
Mr Dehsabzi said his client, who arrived in Australia on Wednesday night and is in custody, was a Faili Kurd and he had a wife and children still living in Iran.
Mr Karimi Azar, he said, had not given him formal legal instructions but at this stage denied the allegations and had indicated he would plead not guilty.
Court documents allege he facilitated the passage of 73 people to Australia, although it is unclear if all or any made it into the country.
His offences occurred, according to the court documents, in Malaysia and Jakarta, Java, and elsewhere in Indonesia.
He has been charged with 39 people smuggling charges and four charges of aggravated people smuggling (five or more persons).
An alleged male co-accused has already been extradited to Australia and is due to face a trial in NSW next year.
Dressed in a black tee-shirt, Mr Karimi Azar, 56, appeared via audio visual link in Sydney’s Central Local Court on Thursday.
Another of his lawyers, Archie Hallas, asked for the matter to be adjourned until the following week so he could have time to read the evidence against his client.
There was no application for bail and Mr Karimi Azar is due to appear in court again next Wednesday.
Through a Farsi interpreter, Mr Karimi Azar sought access to documents seized from him by police because they contained contact numbers for his Indonesian counsel.
The court heard that Mr Karimi Azar had been in custody in an Indonesian prison for nearly two and a half years.
He is the eighth person to be extradited to Australia on people smuggling charges since 2008.
Australia’s 2014 request to extradite him was approved by Jakarta in August and the handover happened at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta airport at 5pm (8pm AEST) on Wednesday.
“It underlines that fact that the Australian and Indonesian governments will continue to co-operate to do what we can to prosecute those who are responsible for the human misery of the people smuggling trade,” Justice Minister Michael Keenan said told reporters in Canberra.
Indonesian Attorney General spokesman Muhammad Rum said the success of the extradition proves his country was serious in following up requests from Australia.
“Indonesia is not a safe haven for criminals escaping abroad,” he said in a statement.
It comes just days after the arrest of notorious people smuggler Captian Bram on Friday, after more than a year of being on the run.
The 62-year-old, whose real name is Abraham Louhenapessy, has a history of smuggling people to Australia dating back to 1999, with authorities saying he likely helped organise the passage of more than 1500 asylum seekers.
He is alleged to have organised the boat on which crew say they werepaid more than $US30,000 by Australian officials to turn back from heading to New Zealand in May last year. It is understood authorities will not be seeking his extradition.