New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said he had no knowledge of whether Australian officials paid people-smugglers to turn around a boat full of refugees, including 54 Sri Lankans, Radio New Zealand reported.
Key told Morning Report he had seen the reports alleging a payment was made but had not been advised that New Zealand was involved or knew about it.
He said New Zealand authorities would have been talking to their Australian counterparts, but that would have been about the boat’s movements.
“All I was advised of is that there was a boat that was coming, the belief that it had both the capability in terms of the boat itself, and the crewmanship of the sailors was estimated to be good enough for them to potentially do it. So it was all around the logisitics of the boat, but nothing else.”
Key was asked what he thought about paying people-smugglers to take their boats back.
“I can sort of see the arguments both ways. On the one had they are issues, in terms of a flood of boats, you don’t want that happening.
“I think the counter-argument of course would be a pretty simple one, which would simply be my view, and I think most people’s view, of boat smugglers, is a very poor one – these people that prey on people that are in a very difficult position.”
Meanwhile, Immigration New Zealand said a police officer from this country is an observer in the Indonesian police-led investigation into the alleged people-smuggling operation.
In a statement, a spokesperson said the investigation was supported by the Australian Federal Police, but would not give any further details for operational reasons.
The boat with 65 people on board was intercepted by an Australian border patrol after setting off from West Java on 5 May. The asylum seekers told police the Australians transferred them to a more seaworthy boat and escorted them back to Indonesian waters.
However the vessel crashed onto a reef near the remote Rote Island, off West Papua, in late May, where it was found by fishermen and rescued by the Indonesian navy.
One of the migrants told Radio New Zealand that when the boat was intercepted, maritime authorities spent several hours talking to the boat’s captain and crew, after which the captain was seen putting Australian money into his pocket.
Speaking from Kupang, Indonesia, Nazmul Hassan, told Morning Report at least $A7200 was paid to the captain and crew for each passenger. Hassan said Indonesian authorities later confiscated much of that money.
A Sri Lankan asylum seeker called Kajuran told ABC News a similar story, and an Indonesian police official told Fairfax media he saw bundles of cash allegedly paid by Australian officials to the crew.
The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR interviewed all 65 passengers who said the crew received a payment from Australian authorities, spokesman James Lynch said.