Indian journalist held in custody in Australia on people smuggling charges
Melbourne, May 11 (PTI) An Indian journalist charged with an aggravated people smuggling offence by Australian authorities for facilitating the travel of a "fake media contingent" to attend the Commonwealth Games will stay in custody for six more weeks, a media report said today.
Rakesh Kumar Sharma, 46, was detained along with eight others by Australian Border Force (ABF) officers at the Brisbane Airport in March because his companions' accreditations were not genuine.
The Commonwealth Games were held on the Gold Coast south of Brisbane from April 4-15.
The eight, aged between 20 and 37, were allegedly holding temporary activity visas and claiming to be accredited media representatives, Brisbane Times reported.
Sharma is described in court documentation as a journalist. Prosecutors claim his accreditation was genuine but he "facilitated" the group's travel, the report said.
Sharma, who is from Haryana, appeared in Brisbane Magistrates Court and charged with an aggravated people smuggling offence, which carries a minimum five-year sentence if convicted.
The charge applies to anyone accused of smuggling five or more people and carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Sharma is also accused of causing "false or forged" documents to be presented on behalf of his eight fellow travellers in relation to a visa application, between December 2017 and March this year.
Legal Aid solicitor Axel Beard used Google Translate to communicate with the accused as he stood in the dock during the first brief hearing.
Sharma was remanded in custody in Brisbane Magistrates Court on Friday, with his matter adjourned to June 22 at the request of commonwealth prosecutors.
In another blow to his legal cause, he will no longer be represented by private law firm Legal Guru after failing to satisfy the terms of his retainer.
He will instead by represented by Legal Aid.
His case has been delayed as Australian Federal Police continue preparing their brief of evidence, with time being taken to examine a laptop and nine mobile phones.
The ABF confirmed the other eight had been taken into immigration detention.
Local authorities had been tipped off by officials in Bangkok that the group might not be genuine, the ABF had said in a statement describing the group as a "fake media contingent".
All nine people were found to be carrying 'false or forged' documents.
Australian Border Force Queensland regional commander Terry Price said any attempts to exploit the Commonwealth Games and Australia's visa program would not be tolerated.
"Anyone wishing to enter Australia, including athletes, team officials, spectators and the media, must hold a valid visa and accreditation and must be deemed to be a legitimate visitor," he said in a statement.
Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Corporation chairman Peter Beattie had said there was no concern despite the security scare.
"There should be no issue in relation to security at these Commonwealth Games. None at all," he said