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Australia jails people-smuggler for 14 years

An Iranian-born man was jailed for 14 years on Monday for organizing at least four people-smuggling boats from Indonesia to Australia, including an ill-fated vessel which crashed, killing 50 people.

Ali Khorram Heydarkhani, 41, was ordered to serve nine-and-a-half years without parole after pleading guilty to four counts of people-smuggling in the Perth District Court last month.

The journeys, made between June 2010 and January 2011, included a doomed vessel that disintegrated in a violent storm off Australia's Christmas Island, a remote Indian Ocean territory, in December 2010 killing 50 asylum seekers.

Three Indonesians who were crewing the smuggling ship were jailed for at least three years last month.

Judge Stephen Scott sentenced Heydarkhani to a maximum of 14 years for his role, which involved liaising with potential passengers and arranging purchase of the unseaworthy vessels, some of which were rotting and had no lifejackets.

“That is a very high sentence in the great scheme of things, far higher than anybody has seen before,” Heydarkhani's lawyer Ian Macfarlane told reporters outside the court.

“Let that be a clear message to anybody who wants to participate in people-smuggling bringing people into Australia illegally.”

The District Court heard that Heydarkhani, who was captured in Indonesia and extradited to Australia in January 2011, lied to asylum seekers about safety and conditions, promising them modern and fast ships with their own rooms and food.

Scott said he had even gone on to organize another voyage just days after the horrific Christmas Island accident, showing a lack of remorse for the scores of deaths on the rickety vessel.

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