SYDNEY — An Iranian citizen extradited from Indonesia was charged in a Sydney court on Thursday with attempting to smuggle 73 asylum seekers by boat to Australia.
Mohammad Naghi Karimi Azar, 56, on Wednesday became the eighth suspected people smuggler to be extradited from Indonesia to Australia since 2008, a government statement said.
Azar was charged in Sydney Central Local Court with 43 counts of people smuggling, an offense that carries a minimum five-year sentence and a maximum of 20 years.
He appeared by video from a Sydney police station.
Court documents allege Azar facilitated the passage of 73 men, women and children between 2011 and 2013. His lawyer, Archie Hallas, told the court that Azar had spent the last two and a half years in an Indonesian jail.
Azar did not apply for bail. Hallas told the court his client needed time to read the 100-page prosecution case against him. Azar is to appear in court next on Oct. 5.
Outside the court, another lawyer for Azar, Sayar Dehsabzi, told reporters his client intended to plead not guilty.
Dehsabzi said Azar told him he was a refugee registered with the United Nations and had fled Iran in fear of persecution because he was a member of an ethnic minority.
Azar’s wife and children remained in Iran, Dehsabzi said.
There has not been a successful people-smuggling venture from Indonesia to Australia in more than two years.
Australian border protection ships turn back boats carrying asylum seekers from the Middle East, Asia and Africa who pay people smugglers to bring them to Australia.
The government estimates there are 14,000 asylum seekers in Indonesia who want to come to Australia by boat.
The extradition “underlines that fact that the Australian and Indonesian governments will continue to cooperate to do what we can to prosecute those who are responsible for the human misery of the people smuggling trade,” Justice Minister Michael Keenan told reporters in the Australian capital, Canberra.
Australia refuses to resettle any refugees who come by boat. It pays the Pacific island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea to keep such asylum seekers in camps.