Accused smuggler fled Saddam

By Kathryn Powley

Maythem Radhi. Photo / One News
Maythem Radhi. Photo / One News

An alleged people smuggler living in New Zealand and fighting extradition to Australia was a refugee who fled persecution in Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Maythem Radhi is accused of being part of an operation that led to 353 people drowning in October 2001 after their boat, Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel X, or SIEV X, sank.

The 19.5m boat was grossly overloaded with 421 people on board when it left Indonesia bound for Australia's Christmas Island. Only 68 survived.

Australian Federal Police allege Radhi was present during negotiations with passengers over fares and helped them board the vessel.

The Herald on Sunday has obtained part of a report on Radhi prepared by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

Radhi, a goldsmith in Iraq, belonged to the Mandaen faith, a minority group persecuted by Hussein's regime.

In 1997, his wife was shot in the chest but he told UNHCR police wouldn't investigate.

In 2000, Radhi fled Iraq with his wife, whose name has been suppressed by the High Court in Auckland, their daughter and his brother Maysar Kamil Radhi.

The UN report states Radhi and his brother flew to Amman in Jordan then Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia before boarding a small boat to Indonesia. They were arrested and detained in Tanjung Balai Immigration Centre for about seven months. The family settled in Cisarua, south of Jakarta.

At some point, Radhi met the man held most accountable for the SIEV X sinking, convicted people smuggler Abu Quessay, an Egyptian later sentenced to five years and three months in an Egyptian jail.

On January 9, 2002, Radhi handed himself in to Jakarta police and on May 24, 2002, he was released because of "insufficient evidence".

However, many SIEV X survivors reported police or military helped load passengers on to the boat.

The report concludes it would be unsafe for Radhi and family to return to Iraq and their status in Indonesia was tenuous.

SIEV X survivor Abu Muslim, who now also lives in New Zealand, was not swayed by Radhi's story. Muslim, whose evidence in Australia helped convict Khaleed Daoed for his role in the SIEV X disaster, said he had no sympathy for Radhi. "He collected our money in Indonesia. They sent the ship into the sea with more than 400 people on board. It was not big enough for 100."

Radhi was arrested in July 2011 after Australian Federal Police sought extradition. In March last year, a district court judge ruled he should face trial in Australia.

That decision was overturned in the High Court in February because at the time of his alleged offending the charges didn't meet the threshold for extradition. The police have applied for leave to appeal.

- Herald on Sunday

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