A people smuggler linked to the deaths of 96 asylum seekers has been sentenced to seven years in jail in Indonesia.
Pakistani Javed Mehmet Bhat, 54, known as Billu, was convicted over two boatloads of asylum seekers sent to Australia in June 2012 and February 2013.
One boat sank on June 21, 2012, while carrying 204 mainly Afghan and Pakistani asylum seekers on their way to Christmas Island - 96 of them died. Confusion between Australian and Indonesian search and rescue authorities meant there was no emergency response for 30 hours.
The boat's sinking led the Gillard government in July that year to try to push the "Malaysia solution" legislation through Parliament, but it was refused by Tony Abbott's opposition.
Billu's sentence is significantly less than the 10 years called for by prosecutors and the maximum sentence of 15 years, and only slightly longer than the six years jail given last year to his underling, Dawood Amiri.
Amiri gave evidence in the court case against his old boss.
Asked in the cells after he had been sentenced if he had any remorse for those who died, Billu said to reporters: “You question like children.”
He put the blame for the boat on Amiri, who is also known as Irfan, and said he was set up by the Indonesian and Australian police.
“It is not my case, my brother. This is Indonesian police and Irfan's business … Australia and Indonesia have power, they can do anything. They can arrest people in this case,” he said.
He also blamed an Indonesian national, Freddy Ambon, exposed by Fairfax Media on secret video talking about the 2012 boat. Billu said Ambon had been arrested by Indonesian police but had paid a bribe to be released.
The convicted smuggler also suggested that Australia was in need of more refugees because it was an empty country: “In Australia only have kangaroo, not people — they want people”, he said.
Billu continued to profess his innocence but said for his family's sake he would not appeal: “I accept for my children. If I don't have wife and children, I teach you and teach all Indonesian police.”
But Judge Nasir Simanjuntak of the East Jakarta court said he had been proven “legally and convincingly guilty” and also imposed an 800 million rupiah ($75,000) fine, or six months extra imprisonment.
Billu was arrested in May 2013 after a joint operation between the Australian and Indonesian police of the kind that is now on hold because of a breakdown in relations over Australian spying on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Amiri, who worked on the boat as an organiser for Billu, fellow Pakistani Zahid Nanna and Freddy Ambon, has acknowledged that the fatal boat was overcrowded.
Billu had insisted it carried that many people as part of his marketing campaign to be the biggest people smuggler in Indonesia.
“That boat, it was going to break the previous record. If it made it to Christmas [Island], Billu said his network would become No. 1,” Amiri has said.
But Billu said there was no evidence pointing at him and that it was Amiri who had taken the people's money and had been caught with the evidence, including 90 mobile phones belonging to passengers.
After its "Malaysia solution" was rejected, Labor referred the asylum seeker issue to an expert committee led by retired Defence chief Angus Houston, with the ultimate result that Labor reopened detention facilities on Nauru and Manus Island.