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People smuggler pleads guilty over boat tragedy

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An Iranian-born Australian citizen has pleaded guilty to four people smuggling charges, and now faces a maximum penalty of 20 years behind bars.

ABC has reported that Ali Khorram Heydarkhani, 41, was due to face a 12-week trial in Perth over charges relating to the organisation of four asylum seeker boats.

One of the charges related to him facilitating the travel of one person on board the asylum seeker boat that crashed at Christmas Island in December 2010, killing 50 men, women and children.

Heydarkhani this morning pleaded guilty to four of the 12 charges he was facing over the travel of four boats between October 2010 and January 2011.

ABC reported that Heydarkhani entered the guilty plea this morning after negotiating with prosecutors.

Heydarkhani was extradited to Australia from Indonesia in May last year, and has been in custody ever since.

He is due to be sentenced in October, facing a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment.

A lengthy inquiry into the deaths of 50 people at Christmas Island was carried out last year by the WA Coroner.

In handing down his findings, Coroner Alastair Hope said the tragedy could occur again if rescue facility and sea surveillance at the island were not improved.

He said the rescue efforts were hampered by a lack of surveillance and inadequate rescue vessels, and recommended the facilities be urgently upgraded.

He found that the people smugglers, and the crew on board the vessel, were responsible for the deaths of the 50 asylum seekers on board the stricken vessel.

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