Photographs of thousands of US dollars handed to six human traffickers, which Indonesian police say are proofs of bribery by Australian officials, were released to Fairfax Media.
"We have given you the evidence," said General Endang Sunjaya, the police chief of Indonesia’s Nusa Tenggara Timur province.
General Endang said the six crew members had all sworn under oath they received about $5,000 (A$6,460) from an Australian official to return to Indonesia. Their accounts were corroborated by asylum seekers who were separately interrogated.
The Sydney Morning Herald had reportedly obtained the images that prove the verity of the allegations. The photos show a bunch of $100 bills which Indonesia’s police say belong to six traffickers who own vessels carrying the asylum seekers. The vessels had landed on Indonesia’s Rote Island in late May before being identified and questioned by Indonesia’s security forces.
Last week, allegations that Australian officials bribed a group of people smugglers to back away from Australian shores and return to Indonesia with their human cargo of 65 asylum seekers had surfaced.
General Endong Sunjaya says “We believe the payments happened” and added that the traffickers all said they were paid by Australian officials to return to Indonesia.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Sunday, “There’s really only one thing to say here, and that is that we’ve stopped the boats.” He added that he is confident officials “acted within the law” in dealing with human traffickers.
Australia has vowed to stop asylum seekers reaching its shores, and often sends boats of asylum seekers back or sentences them to long-term detention in impoverished camps.
Australian officials have reportedly paid thousands of dollars to the captain and crew of a refugee boat that was carrying asylum seekers, who were then ordered to return to Indonesia, according to passengers and an Indonesian police chief.
The United Nations and human rights groups have criticised Australia over its tough asylum-seeker policy, accusing the country of shirking international obligations.
Hidayat, an Indonesian police chief on the island of Rote, was told by the arrested captain and crew that they were given $5,000 to turn back their vessels with 65 refugees on board. The customs officer, named Agus, spoke fluent Indonesian. Refugees were mostly from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
"I saw the money with my own eyes. This is the first time I'd heard Australian authorities making payments to boat crew," Hidayat told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Indonesia says "payment to smugglers" may encourage people smuggling in the region. Australia's opposition parties have also questioned the legal aspects of paying money to smugglers.
Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Armanatha Nasir had earlier said if this situation turns out to be true, it would be a “new low” for the way the government of Australia handles the situation on irregular migration.