Friday August 30 2013
– The Australian Federal Police has no operational power in Indonesia, but when people smugglers are busted by Indonesian police, Australian manpower and money are often playing a role in the background.
Head of the AFP force in Indonesia, Commander Chris Sheehan, told Fairfax Media this often meant providing fuel for the cars of Indonesian police as well as food and accommodation in the field.
Indonesian police are funded for “routine, day-to-day operations” by their government, he said. “But everything unanticipated that requires a mass response and long-term organised crime investigations, they don’t have the funding for that.”
“So if Australia wants the Indonesian National Police to invest resources into pursuing people-smuggling in Indonesia, it’s only reasonable to expect us to come to the party.”
Commander Sheehan, a former head of the AFP’s Serious and Organised Crime office in Canberra, has a staff of 28 sworn police officers in Indonesia. It’s Australia’s largest embassy-based force, and fights an array of crimes, including drug-smuggling, financial crimes and terrorism.
As the volume of asylum seekers has risen in recent months, though, 10 of his staff have been working full-time on the issue. Those numbers were boosted after a Fairfax Media report in May revealed a Labor plan to reduce the officers from five to three at a time when asylum seekers were growing.
Recent arrests, including that of alleged kingpin Javed Mehmud Bhat, appear to have vindicated the new approach.
AFP overseas resources are now an election matter, with Tony Abbott promising a four-year, $67 million funding boost in Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.
Commander Sheehan would not discuss the parties’ competing policies, restricting himself to describing the work of his organisation. He said it has three main parts: exchanging intelligence with the Indonesian National Police, assisting operations and building cyber crime-fighting capacity.
When boats sank near Indonesia, he said, Jakarta-based AFP officers often travelled to the scene to help Indonesian Police debrief the failed asylum seekers. They compared noted with information derived from police interviews with new arrivals on Christmas Island.
“Sometimes asylum seekers are more comfortable talking to us than the Indonesian National Police – perhaps they see us as a neutral party – and also we can provide translators. The INP is not funded for translators, so we provide them with money for translators, organisers, facilitators.”
After comparing notes, a decision was made about whether to investigate a smuggling syndicate.
If it came to an arrest, AFP officers may take part. In June 2012, people smuggler Dawood Amiri had AFP and Indonesian police at his door. But this did not mean Australian police have free rein, Commander Sheehan said. “We have no jurisdiction. It’s their gig. Everything we do is with consent and support of the INP.”
– Michael Bachelard