Banknotes at centre of Australia-Indonesia migrant spat

Al Jazeera gains access to film cash Australian officials allegedly paid smugglers to turn migrants back to Indonesia.

In Indonesia, Al Jazeera has filmed banknotes allegedly at the centre of a major diplomatic dispute sparked by claims that Australian authorities paid people smugglers to turn a boatload of migrants back at sea.

Australia’s government is still refusing to answer questions on whether any such payment took place, sparking a major dispute between the two countries.

Yohanes Humiang, the captain of an asylum seeker boat, told Al Jazeera from the Indonesian island of Roti that he was personally given $6,000 of $31,000 handed over to the six-person crew.

“I told the Australian man we needed money so that we could return to our wives and children. He said ‘OK, we’ll help you.’ As captain, I got $6,000, the five crew got $5,000 each,” Humiang said.

Humiang, now in Indonesian police custody, claims his boat was escorted by two Australian vessels over a two-week period.

He claims that eventually, passengers and crew were transferred to two different fishing boats that the Australians provided and, once paid, sent in the direction of Indonesia.

Endang Sunjaya, the head of Indonesian regional police, told Al Jazeera: “According to our law this is bribery. This is illegal. We will let the international community decide what should be the punishment for it.”

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In Australia on Tuesday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott was still dodging questions.

“The only thing that really counts is ‘have we stopped the boats?’ and the answer is a resounding ‘yes’,” Abbott said.

The prime minister insisted that officials always acted legally, despite legal experts saying paying smugglers to take people anywhere would be against international and even Australian domestic law.

There were also questions for Australia’s main opposition Labor party, whose leader Bill Shorten said people smugglers were never paid at sea by Australia while Labor was in office, but stonewalled when it came to payments ever made to smugglers on land.

Source: Al Jazeera