Australia's most wanted people smuggler has denied all knowledge of the charges against him, saying from a cell outside an Indonesian courthouse that, if he was rich, he'd have been able to buy his way to freedom.
Australia is seeking the extradition of Sayed Abbas, 30, who is accused in an indictment read to the court of 27 counts of people smuggling, relating to 19 people on three different boats between 2009 and 2011.
Prosecutors said he had charged between $US5000 and $US10,000 per passenger for passage from beaches near Mataram in West Java to Australia.
Prosecutors said that, in return for his payment, Abbas had instructed his passengers in what to do at the airport in Jakarta, and what to do once they arrived at their destination. He arranged for boats and instructed the victims to hand over their passports and mobile phones, and asked them "to take an oath on the Koran that they had no other mobile phones".
It's not part of the indictment, but it's also widely believed Abbas was responsible for a boat which sank off the coast of Java in December 2011, killing around 200 people.
Australia has been seeking Abbas' extradition since 2010, but shortly after the request was made, he was sent to prison in Indonesia for harbouring people without travel documents. It is believed he continued to run his people smuggling operation, and of arranging the fatal boat, from his prison cell in Salemba.
After his release in January, he was re-arrested and the extradition process began. The Australian charges carry sentences of up to 20 years in jail and $220,000 in fines.
However Abbas, who originally arrived in Indonesia from Afghanistan in 2000, told the judges in the South Jakarta court that he was a tailor by trade.
He told media that he had never been to Australia, and should not be sent there, saying instead: "Perhaps the Indonesian government could deport me to Afghanistan".
When he had first arrived in Indonesia he had wanted to go to Australia but had been cheated by another notorious people smuggler, Aman Rezai.
"Before I liked Australia, I wanted to go to Australia. But now I have an [Indonesian] wife, I have children. To Australia I do not want to go."
He also denied all knowledge of the charges, saying that other people smugglers had probably used his name in their operations to deflect attention from themselves.
Asked if he had millions of dollars saved from his efforts he said: "If I don't have money, I am in the jail; if I have money, I am not in the jail. Money is power ... to be honest, I don't have any".
The case was adjourned until May 15, when the defence team will give their response.
The story Accused denies knowledge of people smuggler charges against him first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.