Brisbane, March 29: Earlier it used to be concerts of film stars and singers where people smugglers would bring in people in disguise of musicians – who would, once in Australia, New Zealand, UK, US or Canada, disappear into thin air and in most cases – before the first concert. And with meticulous planning of the people smugglers, local musicians would be on standby to step and the stars would carry on with their performances, get p[aid and fly back on time leaving a trail of dirty deals behind for immigration authorities to clean up which would take years on end to complete the circle.

World conference of various types was another medium used by people smugglers.

And the latest is – Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast – CWG-2018 where an Indian journalist – Rakesh Kumar Sharma, is alleged to have masterminded a plan – to bring in 8 people posing as journalists to cover CWG-2018.

But this time round, those nine Indians, 8 plus Rakesh Kumar Sharma described as alleged Commonwealth Games imposters have been detained by Australian Border Force (ABF) officials at Brisbane Airport.

For this the credit goes to an airline liaison officer (ALO) in Bangkok who flagged the group on transit through Thailand on suspicion they may be “non-genuine travellers” and alerted Australian authorities.

On arrival at Brisbane Airport all nine were questioned, and eight were allegedly found to have fake foreign media credentials for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) immediately launched an investigation into alleged people smuggling attempt. All eight were taken into immigration detention and are understood to face imminent deportation.

The alleged mastermind Rakesh Kumar Sharma, 46, appeared in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on charges of aggravated people smuggling and aggravated false documents.

Rakesh Sharma is believed to be a Hindi language journalist and when asked if he spoke English, offered no response. He has been remanded in custody and is due to appear in court again on April 6 for a bail application.

The AFP will be alleging Rakesh Sharma was facilitating the group of 8 men’s travel. The charge applies to anyone accused of smuggling five or more people and carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

He is also being 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 brief hearing.

Mr Sharma was remanded in custody without applying for bail and the magistrate ordered an interpreter fluent in Hindi to be organised for the next hearing, on April 6.

In a statement confirming “charges laid over alleged Commonwealth Games imposters”, ABF regional commander Queensland Terry Price said attempts to exploit 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.

“As with all travellers, the ABF will process all Commonwealth Games visitors on arrival and anyone found not to be here for legitimate purposes can expect to have their visas cancelled and to be turned around. This may occur on arrival in Australia, or prior to boarding flights to Australia” he added.

Australia now has a very skilled network of ALOs at key overseas international airports who can identify travellers of concern and stop them travelling or, as in this case, provide real time information to alert their colleagues in Australia to deal with such travellers on arrival appropriately.     -K.Dev


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