Indonesia clashes with Australia over alleged bribery of people smugglers

A boat carrying asylum seekers moored in Flying Fish Cove at Australia's Christmas Island on Aug 16, 2012.
A boat carrying asylum seekers moored in Flying Fish Cove at Australia's Christmas Island on Aug 16, 2012.PHOTO: EPA

An ongoing spat over alleged payments made by Australian officials to people smugglers to turn a boat carrying asylum seekers back to Indonesia is putting a strain on already fraught ties between the two countries.

Reports had emerged last week that the captain and five crew members of the boat, which was carrying 65 people from Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, were each paid US$5,000 (S$6,719) after being intercepted en route to New Zealand.

News of Australia's unconventional approach has also scandalised human rights organisations and outraged some Australians.

Follow the escalating row below.

Indonesian police chief says there is proof of Australian bribery

An Indonesian police chief investigating claims that Australia paid people smugglers to turn back a boatload of asylum seekers said he had obtained photographs of the wads of cash.

"We believe the payments happened," Geneneral Endang Sunjaya told Fairfax Media. "They (the boat's six crew members) all said the same thing. They were paid by Australian officials to return to Indonesia… If it happened in Indonesia, it would (be) a bribe."


Australia works within law to stop people smuggling boats: PM Abbott

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has insisted that the country's authorities work within the law to stop asylum seeker boats after reports emerged that officials have made cash payments to members of people smuggling rings for years.

He said that while Australia would do "whatever is necessary" to crack down on people smuggling, he was confident officials had not done anything illegal.


Australia tells Indonesia to secure borders

In a stinging rebuke to demands from Jakarta that Australia answer allegations that Canberra paid to turn back a boat of asylum-seekers, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told Indonesia to better secure its borders.

Bishop suggested in an interview with The Australian newspaper that Indonesia was to blame for failing to properly manage its borders.


Australia snubs Indonesia plea to reply to claims

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has repeatedly refused to deny allegations that an official paid thousands of dollars to people smugglers to turn a boat of asylum seekers around.

The row risks damaging already strained relations after Australia's ambassador to Indonesia Paul Grigson resumed his post last week, following his recall over the April execution of two Australians for drug-smuggling.


Indonesia demands answers from Australia over alleged payments

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi demanded on June 13 that Canberra answer claims that Australian officials paid thousands of dollars to turn a boat back to Indonesia after Prime Minister Tony Abbott refused to deny the allegations.

Marsudi said that she had raised the issue on the sidelines of a conference in Jakarta with Australia’s ambassador to Indonesia, Paul Grigson.

Indonesian authorities have launched an investigation into the alleged payments.