Indonesia arrests notorious people-smuggler

JAKARTA (AFP) - Indonesian police said Friday (Sept 23) they had arrested a notorious people-smuggler over an attempt to send a boatload of asylum seekers to New Zealand in 2015.

Abraham Louhenapessy, known as "Captain Bram", was arrested Thursday in Jakarta for allegedly purchasing the boat that was used in the suspected crime in May last year, said police official Sulistiono.

It was the third time in the past decade police had arrested Louhenapessy, who reportedly brought more than 1,500 asylum seekers to Australia during many years as a key figure in the people-smuggling trade.

"Abraham is known to be an old player in human trafficking," Sulistiono, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told reporters.

Louhenapessy was jailed for a brief time after his first arrest in 2007. But when he was arrested again in 2009 - after being found holed up on a boat full of asylum seekers - he was only fined.

He was detained in the capital after returning from overseas, the official said.

The people-smuggling attempt involved a bid to send 65 mostly Sri Lankan migrants to New Zealand in a boat from Indonesia, long a key transit point on well-established people-smuggling routes.

Police said Louhenapessy and 10 other Indonesians and foreigners involved in a people-smuggling ring were paid US$325,000 by the migrants.

The boat was intercepted by Australian customs and navy vessels, and the migrants were sent back to Indonesia in different boats.

The case sparked a serious diplomatic row between Jakarta and Canberra after the captain and crew claimed they were paid about US$30,000 to head back to Indonesia and never engage in people-smuggling again.

Australia refused to deny the allegations.

The captain and crew were caught and jailed in Indonesia in January after being found guilty on people-smuggling charges.

Australia introduced tough immigration policies in 2013 to stop would-be refugees trying to reach its territory in measures that have been condemned as violating international law.