To Catch a People Smuggler, to Wade through Brine of Spin
Anyone who tries "to catch a people smuggler" needs to first peel off the many layers of spin and labelling.
Photo: Captain Bram (unknown, The West Australian)
First, there is the spin around refugees who are trying to reach Australia with the help of those we call 'smugglers'. Media reporting in Australia (and in many other countries) increase sales value through sensational reporting in an environment that resorts to a well-established set of vilifying labels: "queue jumpers", "irregular immigrants", "illegal immigrants".
Media outlets try to smuggle their notion into your mind that 'refugees are illegals'.
Then there is the sensation of media outlets "finding" 'people smugglers'. Now, 'people smugglers' may offer a massively overpriced second-rate travel service that lacks any form of quality control, and that lacks a high standard of maritime safety regulations, but uncovering facts about who they are, and how and why they operate, mostly vanishes under sensational reportage by most media outlets.
Media outlets try to smuggle a newspaper into your house.
Next, remember that most Australian politicians prefer dancing with the large section of the Australian community that fails to understand that those who come by boat are usually refugees, because since 1954 (when Australia signed on to the United Nations Refugee Convention), Australian politicians have consistently refused to tell the full story of the Refugee Convention and our obligations, fearing you may not vote for them if they do.
Politicians try to smuggle construed convictions into your mind.
Next, peel off the layers of spin and vilification of Australian politicians, who are keen to convince you that the millions of dollars spent on what they call "border protection", reaches its target. As a result, they will replace many facts with a thorough condemnation of 'people smugglers', painting them as vile criminals and evil-doers.
Politicians try to smuggle your tick under their name at the ballot box.
11 March 2010: SBY in Canberra: smugglers will be crims - but the passengers? - Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's remarks were reported after the morning press conference by AAP, but no media outlets picked them up or read between the lines. What the Indonesian President gave away after closed-door talks in Canberra was more than we heard from Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
8 November 2009: Kevin Rudd, stuck and becalmed in Merak - Australia's Prime Minister dreams of an Indonesian Solution that fails within a week. Rudd may have made 'that phone call' to President Bambang Yudhoyono, promising even more funding 'to stop the boats' before they would arrive in Australian waters, but he had not counted on local resistance and to fury from Australia and the rest of the world..
21 September 2009: Seeking asylum: Non-protection horrors in Indonesia - An expose of media debate and coverage of the rapidly detoriorating warehousing situation in Indonesia, sponsored by the Rudd government - where the International Organisation for Migration, UNHCR Jakarta and the Australian and Indonesian government all 'assist' to wreck the lives of thousands who seek protection and a better life in Australia.
24 August 2009: Reaching Australia: Iraqi asylum seekers in transit in SE Asia - This paper considers the relationship between asylum seekers and people smugglers, based primarily on interviews with Iraqis settled in Australia and Iraqis stranded in Indonesia since 2001. The study is responsive to recognition within forced migration research of the importance of giving voice to the main agents - refugees and asylum seekers - as part of the research process.
18 May 2009: Kevin Rudd's vile band of people smugglers - Kevin Rudd, with his media remarks, had escalated the issue of people smuggling, and remarkably, a crack appeared in their vileness. For the first time in Australian history, media opinion started to turn against his line, and reporters and opinion writers started to open the issue and, almost unaware of it, started to 'humanise' people smugglers. Thank you, Prime Minister!
:::UPDATED Febr 2008:::: 26 September 2007: Oskar Schindler and the people smuggler - Under Australia's interpretation of what constitutes a 'people smuggler', the young man who sold the donkey to Joseph and Mary would be prosecuted and imprisoned by law ... So would the priest who helped the Von Trapp family ... this page is about Ali Al Jenabi, one of those people smugglers.
What's on this page
This page brings together some media stories about people smugglers, primarily about 'Captain Bram'. Captain Bram, as reported below is wanted by Australian authorities since 2002; politicians consistently paint him as a "notorious people smuggler", a "people smuggling king-pin" and connected to a "people smuggling syndicate"; many Australian Federal Police officers from Australia's "People Smuggling Taskforce" know him - yet after eight years we're still waiting for the Australian Foreign Affairs Minister to issue a demand to Indonesia for his extradition to Australia.
Captain Bram speaks English. He's a man who is financially well off, useful if you need a legal defence in an Australian court. He is well-known and liked by Indonesian authorities.
Would these aspects make him a case too difficult to pursue?
Click the links below to jump down to the articles and items on this page with the same title.
Advocates question impact of people smuggler arrest
ABC Radio Current Affairs
ELEANOR HALL: It's been a good week for the Australian Federal Police, with the capture of several international fugitives.
But in the latest arrest, of the people smuggler known as "Captain Bram", is it all it's cracked up to be?
Australian authorities are calling it a major breakthrough in the fight against illegal immigration.
But refugee advocates say it won't stop the flow of refugees, as Jane Cowan reports.
JANE COWAN: If the arrest of the underworld figure Tony Mokbel in Greece gave the Australian Federal Police reason to celebrate, nabbing the people smuggling king-pin known as Captain Bram in Indonesia must have made their month.
The Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews.
KEVIN ANDREWS: This is a very significant breakthrough, both because of the identity and the position in the people smuggling network of Captain Bram, and also in terms of the increased regional cooperation particularly between Australia and Indonesia.
JANE COWAN: Captain Bram has been wanted by Australian authorities for more than five years.
He's suspected of arranging the transport of 83 Sri Lankan asylum seekers in February. Authorities believe he hid those men and others in Indonesia before putting them on boats bound for Australia.
The Minister Kevin Andrews says Captain Bram's capture on Sunday is a blow to people smuggling.
KEVIN ANDREWS: Well it certainly disrupts some of the people smuggling operations because Captain Bram has been suspected for many years now as being one of the lead figures in people smuggling.
It doesn't mean that this is the end of people smuggling, there are other figures in that network in South East Asia, but it is significant that we have seen the capture of one of them.
JANE COWAN: But the news of Captain Bram's arrest has been greeted less wholeheartedly by refugee advocates like Paul Power, who's the CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia.
PAUL POWER: It can make a bit of a difference. I suppose it's similar to saying should the police fight crime because all the other people pop up to take their places.
JANE COWAN: Paul Power says the boats will keep coming until a law and order response is accompanied by a focus on the more complicated human rights problem.
PAUL POWER: Not only should Australia and neighbouring governments be focusing on the people smugglers, they really need to be looking more seriously at why people feel they need to resort to people smugglers.
We realise that that's a really difficult question, because you're talking about Australia attempting to change the minds of our neighbours, not only in relation to human rights situations within their own borders, which of course is a very complicated and difficult area of diplomacy, but you're also, we'd be asking our neighbouring countries to revisit and review their attitude towards asylum seekers who are coming to their countries.
With so few of our neighbours signatories to the refugee convention and actively following through, well actively participating in the global refugee status determination system, in a fair way, that the problem will remain.
Certainly the Government is making some attempts to engage our neighbours in looking at the question of how asylum claims are being handled, but in the longer term that's actually going to bring about more change to the situation than cracking down on people smuggling, as valuable as the people smuggling crackdown is.
JANE COWAN: If there was one thing that the Australian Government could do on that front to improve things, what would that be at this point?
PAUL POWER: Well I think the, working with the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia, which are geographically strategically placed in terms of migration flows and flows of asylum seekers, but working with them, working in the long term to change the minds of political leaders in both those countries in terms of our attitudes towards asylum seekers and developing a much more effective and fair regional response to the needs of asylum seekers. I think that's where Australia really needs to focus a significant part of its energies.
ELEANOR HALL: That's the Refugee Council of Australia's Paul Power, ending that report from Jane Cowan.
Mr Bigs recruiting hundreds of victims
Three people-smuggling Mr Bigs organised most of the recent flood of refugee boats from Indonesia to Australia.
Fugitives Ali Reza, Majid Mahmood and Ali Sadat - who are responsible for getting hundreds of asylum-seekers to Australia - are priority targets for police.
These were three of the men Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had in mind when he recently called people smugglers "scum of the earth" who deserved to "rot in hell".
The Herald Sun discovered the identities of Reza, Sadat and Mahmood while in Indonesia investigating the people-smuggling industry.
Local people-smuggling experts say the latest intelligence is that hundreds more boat people are expected to make the voyage Down Under in coming weeks.
The Herald Sun investigation also discovered:
Police in Indonesia last month stopped a group of 13 Afghan boat people as they were about to leave for Australia, and were stunned to find one was a 12-week-old boy.
People smugglers are using Australia's softer border controls as a marketing tool to entice asylum-seekers.
Notorious Indonesian people-smuggling kingpin Captain Bram was recently released from jail and is believed to be again setting up his network.
Prolific Pakistani people-smuggler Haji Sakhi is due out of an Indonesian jail this week and is expected to immediately reactivate his contacts.
Haji Sakhi organised the first of the latest wave of refugee boats, which arrived on September 29 last year.
He was arrested, but only got a six-month sentence because people smuggling is not a crime in Indonesia; he could be charged only with minor breaches of the Migration Act.
The Herald Sun was told that by far the most prolific people smuggler wanted by Indonesian police is Ali Reza, 39, a Pakistani who since 1999 has organised passage to Australia for at least 1000 people, mainly from Afghanistan.
"Reza is public enemy number one in people smuggling," a people-smuggling expert in Jakarta told the Herald Sun.
One boat he organised sank in January off West Timor, killing an Afghan boy, 9, his father and seven others.
Reza had arranged for them and nine others to be busted out of a detention centre in Kupang and put on the boat.
Two senior members of Reza's ring who were involved in the breakout, Ali Cobra and Haji Tahir, were recently arrested by Indonesian police, assisted by Jakarta-based Australian Federal Police agents.
Reza organised at least seven boats to Australia between October last year and January this year before fleeing.
He is now believed to be in Pakistan, recruiting more Afghans for the trip to Australia through Malaysia and Indonesia.
Police believe fellow fugitive people-smugglers Majid Mahmood, a 51-year-old Iranian, and Pakistani Ali Sadat, 45, are also major players in the booming human cargo trade.
Sadat is the Indonesian-based boss of a syndicate that allegedly included a Shepparton man and his son, who were recently charged by the AFP with conspiring to bring 68 asylum-seekers to Australia.
Mahmood has been on Indonesian police's most wanted list for years and has masterminded many successful boat trips to Australia.
Many desperate asylum-seekers, willing to pay about $10,000 each to board a boat, have been convinced by people smugglers that Australia's softened policy means they are more likely to be allowed to stay, and be joined by relatives.
People smugglers are pointing to the 746 refugees who've reached Australian waters on 20 boats since September last year as evidence the chances of a successful voyage are good.
They fail to mention that Indonesian National Police, assisted by Indonesian-based AFP agents, have detected 48 boats, due to carry almost 1000, in the past 12 months.
But there are so many remote embarkation points and so many desperate refugees that the INP and AFP have no hope of stopping them all.
People smugglers flock to Puncak, a hill town near Jakarta, where so many Afghans are waiting for boats to Australia that some restaurants now make and sell Afghan food.
Some of the refugees had never heard of John Howard or Kevin Rudd, or changes to Australia's migration laws. They had just heard Australia was a nice, safe place to live.
But several cited the legal changes as a main reason for deciding to try to get to Australia, rather than continuing to wait in Indonesia in the hope of being accepted as refugees.
In 2007, Labor scrapped the Howard government's Pacific Solution, under which refugees were processed offshore at Nauru and Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.
Last August it abandoned temporary protection visas, which prevented asylum-seekers from sponsoring family to join them.
But the Federal Government insists the refugee influx is a "global phenomenon" due to instability in the Middle East, a political crisis in Sri Lanka, difficulties in Burma, and the global economic crisis.
'George' revealed as people-smuggler Captain Bram
Stephen Fitzpatrick, Merak, Indonesia
Indonesian navy intelligence was aware even before apprehending a boatload of 255 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers trying to get to Christmas Island that the operation was being run by people-smuggling kingpin Abraham Louhenapessy, also known as Captain Bram. Although the 49-year-old native of Ambon, in the country's east, quickly admitted his true identity to navy investigators after they seized the wooden cargo vessel more than a week ago, he had used an alias with the Sri Lankans.
Calling himself George, he admitted to some on the boat that he had served jail time for people-smuggling, although few of them are thought to have been aware of the size of his operation, which transported an estimated 1500 illegal immigrants to Australia over the past decade.
Captain Bram was released from prison in June after serving a two-year sentence but is now in custody again in the western Java port town of Merak.
According to the Sri Lankans, he turned the boat around south of Sumatra after missing a planned rendezvous to get off it, fearing capture by the Australian navy and up to 20 years in prison.
However, a senior naval source has told The Australian Captain Bram's movements had been tracked since June, as he began to put together the operation to take the asylum-seekers from Malaysia to Australia.
The asylum-seeker spokesman known only as "Alex" said yesterday that when Indonesian navy personnel boarded the boat in the early hours of last Sunday morning, they told Bram "we've been aware of you for days, but we were turning a blind eye".
Asylum talks on Rudd's Jakarta agenda
ABC News Online
As Prime Minister Kevin Rudd flew into Jakarta last night, the fate of 78 asylum seekers onboard an Australian Customs ship remained in limbo.
Meanwhile, the ABC has learnt that Indonesian intelligence agents knew that a notorious people smuggler was aboard the wooden cargo ship now moored in Western Java before it was intercepted by an Indonesian navy frigate.
Mr Rudd knows that today is not the day to overshadow the second inauguration of Indonesia's wildly popular President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono with noisy discussion about asylum seekers.
The topic may be dominating Australia's political discourse, but it is barely making the news in Indonesia.
With a new administration beginning today and a fresh Cabinet to be announced tomorrow, this nation of almost 240 million people could be forgiven for having concerns other than where 333 asylum seekers are put ashore.
As Mr Rudd attends Dr Yudhoyono's inauguration at Indonesia's Parliament this morning, 254 Sri Lankan Tamils and one Burmese man remain aboard a wooden cargo boat in a Western Java port.
The asylum seekers are refusing to leave until they meet with a representative of the UNHCR.
Reportedly, 78 others now aboard the Australian customs vessel the Oceanic Viking are also to be returned to Indonesia.
They were picked up in a grey zone that has been called Indonesia's search and rescue area. Australian authorities responded after a request from Indonesia.
It has been reported that Jakarta has agreed to take the asylum seekers, but Indonesia's Department of Foreign Affairs was unable to confirm this last night.
This is Australia's Indonesia solution at work - something which will be quietly discussed between President Yudhoyono and Mr Rudd this afternoon.
There will be discussion of Australian offers to provide more funding to boost intelligence sharing, interceptions and the accommodation of asylum seekers while they await processing in Indonesia.
Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor has refused to confirm reports that Indonesia has decided to accept the asylum seekers.
"Until there is a confirmation as to the outcome of the process I'm not in a position to do so," he told Radio National. "We are now in discussions with the Indonesians in order to ensure the way in which to resolve this matter."
He also could not say whether the matter would be resolved before Mr Rudd was due to meet Mr Yudhoyono later today.
Intelligence from Australia helped Indonesia intercept the boat carrying the 255 people now in Merak Port, and six Indonesian crew, including the notorious people smuggler Abraham Lauhenapessy, better known as Captain Bram.
Since 1999 he is believed to have helped at least 1,500 asylum seekers reach Australia.
A senior Indonesian navy source, who does not wish to be named, has revealed to AM that Indonesian intelligence agencies knew Captain Bram was aboard the boat before it was intercepted.
"When the order come to me, it is not about Abraham but it is more about the [order to] intercept the illegal entry," he said.
He says is is possible that Australian authorities also knew that Captain Bram was on the ship.
"Quite frankly, I don't know if the Australians knew about this," he said.
"But what I understand is that the Indonesians knew that Bram - Abraham - was on board the ship.
"That is the thing that I know, but I don't know where the source comes from."
Tamil asylum seekers also aboard the boat have alleged that Captain Bram turned the boat around after missing an intended rendezvous with another boat.
They say he did it to avoid a maximum jail term of 20 years in Australia, as opposed to much more lenient treatment in Indonesia.
Did Australian authorities know Captain Bram was on board but still assist and encourage interception by the Indonesian Navy?
Somewhere amidst the pomp and ceremony in Jakarta today, perhaps that question will be answered.
How Canada can prevent human smuggling
The Calgary Herald, Canada
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney isn't being an uncaring ogre when he says he will play hardball with 76 suspected Tamil refuges whose rusting boat was recently intercepted off the West Coast. The Canadian Tamil community urges the government to show compassion toward the men, who may be seeking asylum from the post-civil war situation in Sri Lanka, where nearly 300,000 Tamils are being held in brutal refugee camps that have been condemned by the world's top human rights organizations.
The 76 illegal migrants, being held in Surrey, B. C., are believed to have paid up to $45,000 each to the notorious human smuggler Abraham (Captain Bram) Lauhenapessy.
Kenney has adopted the right approach. Accepting refugees from a shadowy global human smuggling pipeline will only serve to victimize others by encouraging them to also fall prey to Captain Bram and his ilk.
Canada's reputation as a safe haven for refugees and asylum seekers was underscored this week by a man identified as Alex. He was one of 254 Tamils who couldn't afford Captain Bram's exorbitant fee to go to Canada and instead opted to pay him $15,000 to go to Australia. Detected, Captain Bram hightailed it back to Indonesia, where his ship and its human cargo were intercepted. Envious of the 76 who made it to Canada, Alex said his group was depressed at choosing Australia rather than come here. "Countries like Canada have accepted these asylum seekers who have arrived by boat and have taken them into their country," he said.
Kenney notes that asylum claims in Canada have increased 70 per cent over the past two years, owing mainly to the knowledge among human smugglers and their clients like Alex that they have a 40 per cent success rate of getting into Canada. That's the acceptance rate in Canada for those seeking asylum here, a rate that is double that of other developed nations. Good odds, indeed.
How anyone in Sri Lanka can come up with $45,000 to pay Captain Bram, who is now in custody, is also vexing. With that kind of money, they could be arms dealers, drug dealers or Tamil Tigers, which the Canadian government considers a terrorist group whose members are prohibited from entry. In this case, the government must deal expeditiously to separate legitimate asylum seekers from well-financed queue-jumpers.
If they are the former, they deserve compassion. If the latter, they should be refused. In the long term, diplomacy must also be brought to bear on the Sri Lankan government to stabilize the country through a political reconciliation process and allow displaced persons to travel freely within their own country, rather than letting them fall victim to smugglers and pirates.
[article no longer available online]
'Captain Bram' likely to escape with fine
The notorious Indonesian people smuggler Abraham Louhenapessy, better known as Captain Bram, will likely receive only a fine for attempting to bring 254 Sri Lankans in a dangerously overcrowded boat to Australia last year.
Despite more than a decade of organising boats to Australia and being caught on the vessel - which he owned - with the asylum seekers, Louhenapessy has been charged only with breaching Indonesia's sailing laws.
The offence of failing to have the correct documents for the boat, its crew and passengers carries a maximum two year sentence.
But lead prosecutor Fransiscus Pakpahan, who likened the offence to driving a car without a license, told The Age ''in cases like this, it is usually a fine''.
''If he can't pay the fine, he may be jailed,'' he said. ''But it is all up to the panel of judges.''
Louhenapessy is not short of cash after a long career sending boats laden with irregular immigrants to Australia.
He is thought to have arranged the passage of more than 1500 people.
As he awaits trial, Louhenapessy is living in a middle class housing estate in Bekasi outside Jakarta, along with tattooed men from his native Ambon.
Louhenapessy's human cargo, meanwhile, are living in desperate conditions in a port in Merak, refusing to disembark from the packed vessel since they were intercepted by the Indonesian navy following a personal request from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd almost four months ago.
A spokesman for the ethnic Tamils at Merak, Sanjeev ''Alex'' Kuhendrarajah, said the people smuggler had told them he regularly paid bribes to Indonesian officials and was confident he would not be imprisoned after they were detained in October.
Their wooden boat was apprehended after it was ordered to stop so Louhenapessy could be picked up by a smaller vessel and avoid entering Australian waters, a rendezvous that never happened.
Louhenapessy faced up to 20 years in prison if caught by Australian authorities.
''He had to save himself so he put the lives and futures of 254 people in danger,'' said Mr Kuhendrarajah. ''Right now, our lives are hanging by a thread but he seems to be doing just fine.''
A 29-year-old asylum seeker involved in the stand-off died last month after a seizure, while diarrhoea and fever are commonplace.
Louhenapessy first came to the attention of authorities in 1999. His arrest in 2007, described as the ''most significant breakthrough in years'' by the Howard government, led to just 20 months in prison, where he is believed to have continued to run a people-smuggling network.
Within months of his release, Louhenapessy was captured on his boat, the Jaya Lestari 5, with the 254 Tamils from Sri Lanka.
The meagre, single charge he faces was blamed by one prosecutor on a woeful investigation by the Indonesian navy. But it also highlights Indonesia's lack of people-smuggling laws, which has hindered efforts to crack down on syndicates.
Australia's ambassador for people smuggling, Peter Wolcott, is in Jakarta this week ''holding general discussions'' with authorities.
People smuggler slapped on wrist
Sydney Morning Herald
THE notorious Indonesian people smuggler Abraham Louhenapessy, better known as Captain Bram, is likely to receive only a fine for attempting to bring 254 Sri Lankans in an overcrowded boat to Australia last year.
Despite more than a decade of organising boats to Australia and being caught on the vessel - which he owned - with the asylum-seekers, he has been charged only with breaching Indonesia's sailing laws.
The offence of failing to have the correct documents for the boat, its crew and passengers carries a maximum two-year sentence.
But the lead prosecutor, Fransiscus Pakpahan, who likened the offence to driving a car without a licence, told the Herald ''in cases like this, it is usually a fine''.
''If he can't pay the fine, he may be jailed,'' he said. ''But it is all up to the panel of judges.''
Mr Louhenapessy is not short of cash after a long career sending boats laden with irregular immigrants to Australia. He is thought to have arranged the passage of more than 1500 people. The Sri Lankans say they paid up to $12,000 each to make the trip to Australia.
As he awaits this month's trial, Mr Louhenapessy is living in a middle-class housing estate in Bekasi, outside Jakarta, along with tattooed men from his native Ambon. One of the men, the human trafficker's nephew Yance Louhenapessy, described himself as a ''debt collector'' and warned the Herald to stay away.
Mr Louhenapessy's human cargo, meanwhile, are living in desperate conditions in the port of Merak, refusing to disembark since they were intercepted by the Indonesian navy following a personal request from the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, almost four months ago.
A spokesman for the ethnic Tamils at Merak, Sanjeev ''Alex'' Kuhendrarajah, said the people smuggler had told them he regularly paid bribes to officials and was confident he would not be imprisoned after they were detained in October.
Their wooden boat was apprehended by the Indonesian navy when it stopped after missing a rendezvous to let Mr Louhenapessy board a smaller vessel so he could avoid entering Australian waters. He was found on the larger boat on its return to Indonesia. He faces up to 20 years in prison if caught by Australian authorities.
''He had to save himself so he put the lives and futures of 254 people in danger,'' said Mr Kuhendrarajah. ''Right now, our lives are hanging by a thread but he seems to be doing just fine.'' A 29-year-old asylum-seeker involved in the stand-off died last month after suffering a seizure. Diarrhoea and fever are commonplace on the boat.
A toddler on board was ''continuously screaming'' yesterday due to an ear infection, said Mr Kuhendrarajah.
Mr Louhenapessy first came to the attention of authorities in 1999. His arrest for various immigration offences in 2007, described as the ''most significant breakthrough in years'' by the Howard government, led to just 20 months in prison, where he is believed to have continued to run a people-smuggling network.
Within months of his release, he was captured on his boat, the Jaya Lestari 5, with the 254 Tamils. The meagre single charge he faces was blamed by one prosecutor on a woeful investigation by the Indonesian navy.
But it also highlights Indonesia's lack of people smuggling laws that have hindered efforts to crack down on syndicates.
Such laws have been mooted for almost as long as Mr Louhenapessy has been in business but have yet to eventuate, although Indonesia has promised action this year. Australia's ambassador for people smuggling, Peter Woolcott, is in Jakarta this week ''holding general discussions'' with authorities.
People-smuggler to get only a small fine
The notorious Indonesian people-smuggler behind the failed attempt to bring 254 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers into Australia last year is facing trial for breaching sailing laws.
Abraham Louhenapessy, better known as Captain Bram, faces a maximum two years in prison for hiring crew members who did not have proper documents to man his boat, the Jaya Lestari 5.
The boat sailed from the Indonesian island of Batam bound for Christmas Island in late September, but the Indonesian navy stopped it early the following month with Bram still on board.
At the time, the boat was waiting to transfer him to another vessel so he did not have to enter Australian waters.
Prosecutors were unable to charge him with more serious offences, partly because people- smuggling is not yet a crime in Indonesia. As a result, Bram looks set to escape the Serang District Court trial with a modest fine.
In Australia, he would face people-smuggling charges and up to 20 years in prison.
Bram refused to speak to the media after yesterday's trial proceedings, which heard from two of the crew members he hired in Batam. "He knew the documents were not complete but he hired us anyway," one of the crew members, Mansyur Mamero, said.
The trial, before a panel of three judges, will resume next week, with a verdict expected early next month.
Bram is believed to have brought more than 1500 asylum-seekers into Australia in the past decade. He was arrested in 2007 and served 20 months in prison for immigration offences but was released last year. He was found aboard the Jaya Lestari just months later.
Meanwhile, more than 240 of the Sri Lankans are still aboard his overcrowded boat moored in the Javanese port of Merak, and refusing to go ashore.
They fear they will have to wait years for resettlement if they are processed in Indonesia.
I was working for AFP, says accused people-smuggler
From correspondents in Jakarta
An Afghan man accused of people smuggling in Indonesia says he is innocent and claims Australian police pushed for his arrest only after he stopped feeding them intelligence.
Sajjad Hussain Noor, 26, was arrested in October last year and is now in a Jakarta jail awaiting extradition to Australia to face people-smuggling charges.
Mr Noor, an ethnic Hazara, says he tried to seek asylum in Australia in 2001 but the crowded boat he shared with 145 other Afghans broke down in Indonesian waters.
Without enough money to try again, he was forced to wait in Indonesia for the UNHCR to assess his refugee claim.
In the meantime, he approached the Australian embassy in Jakarta with information about the smuggler who arranged the failed journey, he said.
"He f..ked my life and I wanted to f..k him back," Mr Noor told AAP in an exclusive interview inside the jail.
Mr Noor wanted Australia to reward his co-operation by helping him with his case but embassy officials refused, he said.
He subsequently decided not to help them.
But Mr Noor said he approached them with new information in 2008.
He said he met with embassy officials, including at least one Australian Federal Police officer, on several occasions.
"I said: 'This guy, this guy and this guy are doing this, this and this, and I know them, I can give you information, where they are and when they move'," he said.
But Mr Noor eventually began to feel exploited because he was getting nothing in return.
"So I stopped," he said.
"They tried to reach me, they called me. 'Please come and meet us, we want to ask you more questions.'
"But from that time when I stopped meeting with them they turned against me."
The following year, Australia requested Indonesian police arrest him.
Mr Noor said he was shocked to learn he was wanted in Australia.
Despite having access to information about people-smugglers, he said he never participated in the business himself.
"I never did anything criminal," he said.
"From 2001 to 2009, until I was arrested, I never made any problems."
Alleged people-smuggler Abraham Louhenapessy tells court he 'rescued' 250 Sri Lankans
An alleged people-smuggler claims he took 250 Sri Lankans on his boat because seas were rough and there were many small children in danger of drowning.
Abraham Louhenapessy, better known as Captain Bram, told his own trial he feared the Sri Lankans, who were in small boats, could have ended up swamped by big waves.
"We met the Sri Lankan people in the sea. They were floating in the middle of the ocean using small boats. We saw children on the boats.
"The waves were strong, so we took them, for humanitarian reasons," Capt Bram told Serang District Court in West Java.
After his arrest, Capt Bram allegedly told investigators he had been ordered by a Malaysian boss known as Ruben to prepare a boat to take a large group of Sri Lankans from Indonesia to Christmas Island. The alleged plan had been for Capt Bram and his crew to get off the boat towards the end and the Sri Lankans would sail to Australia by themselves.
However in court he claimed his vessel had been distributing produce to small islands in the Riau region.
The boatload of 250 Sri Lankans, including 31 children, was stopped by the Indonesian Navy four months ago at the request of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as it was en route to Christmas Island.
Capt Bram was arrested on the boat, now moored in Merak Port, west of Jakarta.
The asylum-seekers are refusing to get off.
The court hearing continues in a fortnight. Capt Bram is only charged with maritime offences.
Capt Bram, 49, has been described as a major player in the people-smuggling business. It is his second arrest - in 2007 he was held over a bid to bring 83 Sri Lankans to Australia, but he only served 20 months in jail on immigration charges.
Captain Bram: Missing the Boat
Cindy Wockner, Jakarta
Photo: Captain Bram. From The Courier-Mail.
As Abraham Louhenapessy tells it, he was a hero. Sailing along, doing produce and grocery runs between small Indonesian islands, he came across six boatloads of people in the ocean.
It was 11pm, the seas were rough, big waves threatened to swamp the vessels and he could see many children among the frightened people on the boats.
So he took them on board his own boat, the Jaya Lestari 5, for "humanitarian" reasons. The 49-year-old says he couldn't leave them there in the choppy ocean and risk them all drowning.
Louhenapessy, or Captain Bram as he is more commonly known, told a court in West Java this week that he didn't know until the 250 people were on his boat that they were Sri Lankans and that they wanted to go to Christmas Island in Australia to seek asylum.
It was a vastly different story from the one he supposedly gave investigators when they interviewed him after the Jaya Lestari 5 was stopped and taken into naval custody. At that time, he claimed that a colleague named Ruben in Malaysia asked him to prepare a boat to take a group of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka part-way to Christmas Island.
The deal was that, when they got almost there, Capt Bram and his Indonesian crew would get off and catch a fishing boat to the nearest land, leaving the Sri Lankans to sail themselves the rest of the way to Australia.
But they missed the rendezvous and instead the next meeting was with an Indonesian Navy patrol boat.
It had been sent to find them at the direction of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who did so after Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called and asked him to stop the boat before it entered Australian waters.
The Jaya Lestari 5 then became an Indonesian problem. Australia had washed its hands of the boat and its cargo of 250, including 31 children.
After the 30m boat was moored in Merak Harbour, in West Java, authorities realised that on board was a man known variously as a big fish, a kingpin, a notorious people smuggler who for the past decade had been organising asylum seekers to go to Australia - at least 1500 of them.
It was a big deal. Just like in 2007 when he was arrested, also in Indonesia, it was hailed by the Australian Government as "a major blow to people-smuggling networks in our region".
A press release at the time said: "Capt Bram has been a priority target for Australia for more than five years."
It is a shame that last time he was arrested he was sentenced to only 20 months in jail on immigration offences. He got out of prison and went straight back into business.
This time he might not even go to jail. He is charged only with the maritime offences of failing to have the proper documentation for his crew, for which the maximum prison term is two years, and he is more likely to get a fine.
So confident is Capt Bram this time around that he doesn't even have a lawyer representing him.
He turns up to court surrounded by his henchmen and represents himself.
This week, when he testified, the prosecutors and judges didn't even bother to question him about the disparities in his two versions of how the Sri Lankans came to be on his boat.
As the prosecutor explained to me later, there's no point even going there because he's not charged with people smuggling or with failing to have proper documents for the Sri Lankans.
Indonesia, despite being a major transit point for boats bound for Australia, does not have people-smuggling laws, therefore the smugglers get caught here, get a slap on the wrist and get back into business. In Australia, the maximum term for people smuggling is 20 years.
Indonesia hopes this year to enact people smuggling laws that would criminalise the practice with jail terms of five to 15 years' jail but the passage of new Bills is notoriously slow. The draft of the new immigration law has been under way since October 2005.
The emerging democracy also has many more pressing domestic issues to deal with that have precedence over people smuggling. As do the Indonesian police.
If Rudd had not been so intent on stopping the Jaya Lestari 5 before it got to Christmas Island and passing the problem to Indonesia, perhaps the "notorious" Capt Bram would have been arrested in Australian waters, faced an Australian court and got a hefty sentence, putting him out of business.
Cindy Wockner is The Courier-Mail's Jakarta correspondent
[not available online]
Captain Abraham Louhenapessy 'a hero' claiming 250 rescues
An alleged people-smuggler claims he took 250 Sri Lankans on his boat because seas were rough and there were many small children in danger of drowning. Abraham Louhenapessy, better known as Captain Bram, told his own trial yesterday he feared the Sri Lankans, who were in small boats, could have ended up swamped by big waves. "We met the Sri Lankan people in the sea. They were floating in the middle of the ocean using small boats. We saw children on the boats.
"The waves were strong, so we took them, for humanitarian reasons," Capt Bram told Serang District Court in West Java. After his arrest, Capt Bram allegedly told investigators he had been ordered by a Malaysian boss known as Ruben to prepare a boat to take a large group of Sri Lankans from Indonesia to Christmas Island. The alleged plan had been for Capt Bram and his crew to get off the boat towards the end and the Sri Lankans would sail to Australia by themselves.
However in court yesterday he claimed his vessel had been distributing produce to small islands in the Riau region. The boatload of 250 Sri Lankans, including 31 children, was stopped by the Indonesian Navy four months ago at the request of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as it was en route to Christmas Island.
Capt Bram was arrested on the boat, now moored in Merak Port, west of Jakarta.
The asylum-seekers are refusing to get off. The court hearing continues in a fortnight. Capt Bram is only charged with maritime offences. Capt Bram, 49, has been described as a major player in the people-smuggling business. It is his second arrest, in 2007 he was held over a bid to bring 83 Sri Lankans to Australia, but he only served 20 months in jail on immigration charges.
Smuggler faces $3500 fine
Indonesian prosecutors have asked that the infamous human trafficker Abraham Louhenapessy - better known as Captain Bram - be fined $3500 and placed on probation for two years after he was caught trying to smuggle 254 Sri Lankan asylum seekers to Australia.
Explaining the sentence request, prosecutor Fransiscus Pakpahan told the court - incorrectly - that Louhenapessy, who has been in the people smuggling business for over a decade, had never been imprisoned. He also cited his ''co-operation'' with authorities and the fact that he had a family to support.
Because Indonesia has no laws criminalising human trafficking, Louhenapessy was on trial for minor breaches of the country's sailing regulations. In Canberra last week Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono promised that people smuggling would be criminalised and carry a sentence of five years' jail.
Mr Pakpahan told The Age that if Louhenapessy reoffends during his two-year probation, he should be sent to prison for one year under the terms of the sentence request.
If he cannot pay the fine, he would be imprisoned for five months straight away, he added.
Louhenapessy has reportedly organised the passage of more than 1500 people to Australia over the past decade and served 20 months in prison after he was arrested in 2007. At the time, his arrest was hailed by the Howard government as the ''most significant breakthrough in years'' against people smuggling. He continued to organise trips to Australia while in jail.
The veteran trafficker was caught on board the Jaya Lestari 5 by the Indonesian Navy as his vessel tried to transported 254 Tamils to Australia last October.
The boat was intercepted following a request from Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and prompted a media storm when those on board refused to disembark.
Five months later, most of those asylum seekers remain on the rickety wooden boat moored at the Indonesian port of Merak.
A panel of judges will deliver its verdict next week.
Notorious people smuggler likely to walk free
ABC Online News
The people smuggler responsible for trying to send more than 250 Sri Lankans to Australia last year is expected to be punished with a fine in an Indonesian court today.
Abraham Lauhenapessy, better known as Captain Bram, was arrested after the Indonesian navy intercepted his boat carrying more than 250 asylum seekers in October.
The navy acted after a personal appeal from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The smuggling king pin has been accused of sending 1,500 people on boats to Australia over his career and had only just been released from jail after doing time over a previous operation.
But because there is no people smuggling law in Indonesia, he has been charged with employing a crew without the correct authorisation and the prosecutors have recommended a $3,500 fine and a one-year suspended sentence.
This means the notorious smuggler, who did not even bother to show up at some points during this trial, will probably walk free after paying his fine.
The fact that Captain Bram told investigators that he had been sent on the smuggling job by an associate in Malaysia was not raised in court, because it was not considered relevant to proving the charge at hand.
Even when he later testified that he simply rescued the asylum seekers when he came across them by coincidence at sea, the conspiracy did not get a mention.
The chief prosecutor, Joko Subagyo, says the 20 months Captain Bram spent in jail on immigration charges as the result of a previous smuggling mission also did not rate a mention, because it was not even in the brief used in the trial.
Mr Subagyo maintains these facts were not relevant to proving the charge, but he does concede they could have helped his office argue for a stiffer sentence.
Captain Bram could have been sentenced to a maximum of two years in jail.
The Indonesian parliament is expected to start discussing a long-awaited anti-people smuggling law next month at least two years after it was first mooted.
The boatload of Sri Lankan asylum seekers bound for Australia was a matter of grave international significance in October last year.
The asylum seeker issue just would not go away and in Australia, electoral tension was in the air.
The whole fiasco has strained relations between Australia and Indonesia.
The arrest of Captain Bram was regarded as a victory, but today's court ruling reflects a different reality.
If his boat had continued on and been intercepted in Australian waters, he would be facing twenty years in an Australian jail.
But instead the boat turned back as it neared the edge of Indonesia waters when his personal escape craft failed to show up.
Meanwhile, five months on, the asylum seekers are still languishing, detained at the port of Merak.
People smuggler avoids jail in Indonesia
ABC Online News
The people smuggler responsible for trying to send 250 Sri Lankans to Australia last year has avoided a jail sentence.
An Indonesian judge has issued Abraham Lauhenapessy, or Captain Bram as he is better known, with a one-year suspended sentence and a $3,000 fine.
Dressed in jeans and a black shirt, Captain Bram, 49, kept his eyes lowered in court.
He was jailed for people smuggling-related offences in 2007, but in court today the judge said he took into account Captain Bram's clean record.
The judge said while the people smuggler had been well behaved and frank, his actions had endangered maritime security.
Indonesia does not have people smuggling laws, but president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has promised to bring them in soon.
Five months on, the asylum seekers Captain Bram was transporting to Australia are still refusing to leave their boat at the port of Merak.
Smugglers profit while poor pay the price
Poor Indonesian fishermen duped into steering boats into Australian waters for people smugglers face up to 20 years jail - the equivalent of murder sentences.
More than 150 Indonesian crewmen face charges that carry heavy penalties under anti-people smuggling laws that lawyers are criticising as unjust.
The crewmen are recruited by ruthless people smugglers reaping millions of dollars for organising asylum seeker boats.
None of the main organisers of 102 boats that have arrived in Australia since 2008 have been brought to justice.
They have developed sophisticated tactics to avoid capture in Australia, including using a second, usually smaller and faster, boat to return to Indonesia to plan more smuggling trips.
The Indonesian crewmen are usually paid only the equivalent of a few hundred dollars in Indonesian rupiah for taking a boat into Australian waters.
They are told Australian authorities will take care of them - and will even pay them for each day they are detained - before quickly flying them back to Indonesia.
The con is easily sold, because for years that is the way Australian authorities treated the crews of illegal Indonesian fishing boats.
Lawyers say the Indonesians arriving in Australia on asylum seeker boats are shocked to learn that judges have no option under federal people-smuggling laws but to send them to jail for years.
Suzan Cox, director of the Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission, told The Age that most of the people facing people smuggling offences and mandatory jail terms in Australia were not organising the boats.
"That's what we see as the injustice," Ms Cox said. "They are poor fishermen with limited education who come from impoverished backgrounds."
Mandatory sentencing did not make any allowance for the degree of a person's involvement. Indonesian crewmen should instead be charged with bringing boats illegally into Australian waters, she said.
The federal government makes no distinction between crew and people smugglers. Last year, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said of the latter that they "should all rot in jail because they represent the absolute scum of the earth".
Under the Migration Act, people convicted for a boat carrying five or more people face a maximum penalty of 20 years' imprisonment, a fine of $220,000, or both. The minimum sentence for first-time offenders is five years' jail with a three-year non-parole period.
When he sentenced two Indonesian crewmen who were on SIEV 36, the boat on which five people died when it exploded near Ashmore Reef last year, Northern Territory Supreme Court judge Dean Mildren said he believed they did not deserve five years' jail.
"But for the mandatory minimum sentences I am required to impose, I would have imposed a much lesser sentence," Justice Mildren said.
Organisers of the asylum-seeker boats have begun using sophisticated equipment and tactics.
Last week, the 100th boat to arrive in Australian waters since the Rudd government came to power had GPS, satellite telephones and Australian mobile telephones on board, sources say. The boat landed undetected at Christmas Island and someone on board called the immigration detention camp office to pick them up.
Two days later, someone on another boat called the Australian Federal Police when it was close to the island, asking for a boat to transfer them to the detention centre.
Notorious people smuggler Abraham Lauhenaspessy - better known as Captain Bram - has evaded capture in Australia since he began organising asylum seeker boats in 2000.
On October 12 last year, he turned a boat of 255 Sri Lankans away from Christmas Island into the path of an Indonesian navy vessel after he missed a rendezvous with a smaller boat he intended to transfer to.
Lauhenaspessy, 47, knew if he was apprehended in Australian territory he would face a long jail sentence. He was freed on minor charges by an Indonesian court last month. Police suspect he is now organising more boats.
The Sri Lankans have spent six months on their wooden boat at a port in West Java, refusing to get off because they fear they will have to wait years in Indonesia before resettlement in another country.
They had paid Lauhenaspessy a total of $4.3 million.
Mr Rudd defended his government's approach to asylum seekers at the weekend, saying their numbers would vary according to global conditions.
He said migration levels were about the same under his government as they were under the Howard government.
The prime minister denied that the Christmas Island detention centre was overcrowded after the arrival of the 34th boat so far this year.
There are now 2067 people in the centre, which the Immigration Department previously said could accommodate 2040.
Australian authorities have intelligence that people smugglers are planning for up to 70 more boats to make the risky journey to Australian waters in the next few months.
People-smuggling captain to get his vessel back
The 98-tonne cargo ship occupied by protesting Sri Lankan asylum-seekers in Indonesia could be handed back to one of the region's most notorious people-smugglers if the refugees vacate it under a planned move this month.
Indonesian officials have confirmed that Abraham Louhenapessy (aka Captain Bram) - who has been linked to a syndicate once blamed for sending 30 per cent of all asylum-seekers to Australia - would be entitled to reclaim the vessel Jaya Lestari if he presents ownership documents to the authorities.
The revelation came as Indonesia's people-smuggling taskforce warned that the country could be overloaded by thousands of asylum-seekers, who were continuing to pour in from Malaysia probably en route to Australia.
On Wednesday, Indonesian authorities in West Java picked up 30 asylum-seekers attempting to get on a boat to travel to Australia.
That Louhenapessy could be given back the boat he used for his recent smuggling operation highlights the inefficient and difficult nature of trying to police people-smuggling in Indonesia.
Louhenapessy, 50, who was caught on board the ship with the Sri Lankan Tamil asylum-seekers when it was intercepted in Indonesian waters last October, has been arrested twice before in connection with significant people-smuggling operations.
After the ship docked at Merak in Java's west last October, the 254 Tamil asylum-seekers refused to disembark, fearing they would wait years for resettlement if their claims were processed there.
Louhenapessy was allowed to go free and faced only minor charges in connection with the Jaya Lestari's crew not having appropriate paperwork. In March, he was convicted on a minor paperwork offence and given a one-year suspended sentence.
Louhenapessy has told officials he owns the boat, a diesel engine-powered wooden vessel, having purchased it for about $64,000 - money he had obtained from a mysterious financier or "boss" known only as Ruben.
This week, an elusive Louhenapessy refused to be drawn on his plans for the boat.
"I don't want to have to deal with it at the moment," he said by mobile phone from somewhere in Indonesia. "I'm not having a good time. I don't want to meet any journalists."
Merak Ports Administration chief Nyoman Gede Saputra said the Jaya Lestari's owner only had to present the appropriate ownership papers and ask for a letter designating the next destination and it would be allowed to go.
A spokesman for the Banten Province Police, Sugita, said police did not know what would happen with the boat as the investigation had been handled by the Indonesian navy.
A naval source said the navy had no further involvement in the case as it had gone to court.
Louhenapessy was not at his townhouse home in the sleepy, middle-class suburb of Bekasi in east Jakarta. A neighbour described him as very kind and nice.
This week, refugees on the Jaya Lestari, still anxiously waiting for news of their planned shift, recalled that when their ship docked in October, a group of men in civilian clothes who appeared to be associates of Louhenapessy had taken away all his documents and possessions.
A police record of interview with Louhenapessy after his October arrest obtained by The Weekend Australian reveals he may have perjured himself in court by contradicting admissions he had made to the police.
In the police report, he said he had been ordered by Ruben to travel to a certain point where he would meet the Tamil refugees and take them to another point where they would travel to Christmas Island.
In court, he said he had been a hero because he had happened to stumble across the Tamils and rescue them from their sinking boats.
During the police interview, he also appears to have been coy about his employment history, claiming he was a freelance debt collector from 2000 to 2003 and unemployed until now.
He failed to mention he had been arrested for people-smuggling in 2001 and in 2007.
In 2001, he and Pakistani Hasan Ayoub were arrested for trying to organise what then would have been the largest shipment of refugees to Australia.
A sting operation involving Australian Federal Police and Cambodian officials nabbed Louhenapessy and Ayoub in the early stages of the operation in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Their boat was carrying 248 refugees and was believed to be on its way to Indonesia to pick up more.
But Louhenapessy was released by Cambodian authorities after what is believed to have been intense lobbying by the Indonesian embassy. His partner Ayoub, however, received a lengthy sentence.
In 2007, Louhenapessy was arrested again, this time in connection with the arrival of 83 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers in international waters off Australia.
Louhenapessy was sentenced to two years' jail in Indonesia after being charged and convicted for hiding, protecting and harbouring people known to have entered Indonesia illegally.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has proposed tough laws to target people-smugglers, which are due to be discussed in parliament this year.
Additional reporting: Enny Zumaidar