An Iraqi man has been charged in Australia with people trafficking in connection with the drowning deaths of more than 350 asylum seekers in 2001, police said Saturday.
Maythem Radhi, 43, was arrested at Brisbane airport late Friday after being extradited from New Zealand and has been charged with “organizing groups of non-citizens into Australia.”
He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Police claim he was part of a syndicate that charged 421 mostly Iraqi and Afghan refugees for a place aboard an Indonesian fishing boat known by Australian authorities as SIEV-X in 2001.
The vessel sunk in the Indian Ocean while en route to Australia’s Christmas Island, leaving 353 people dead, 146 of them children.
“Police will allege in court that the man, then aged 24, took payments from the passengers,” the Australian Federal Police said in a statement on Saturday – exactly 18 years after the disaster.
“It will also be alleged that he helped facilitate the transportation and accommodation of people in Indonesia in preparation for their journey to Australia,” they added.
Radhi is the third person to face court for their role in the disaster.
Iraqi people smuggler Khaleed Shnayf Daoed was extradited from Sweden to Australia in 2003 and received a nine-year sentence two years later, with prosecutors portraying the then 36-year-old as a key organizer for Egyptian people smuggler Abu Quassey.
Quassey was convicted in Egypt in December 2003 of causing death through negligence and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Radhi is expected to appear in court later this month.