SYDNEY — Australian officials on Friday refused to deny allegations that authorities paid crew on a people-smuggling boat US$30,000 to return 65 asylum-seekers to Indonesia, while insisting that no laws had been broken.
The refusal to confirm or deny the allegations came after Amnesty International said the evidence of cash payments could no longer be ignored and as Australia comes under mounting pressure over its heavily criticised immigration policies.
The captain of a migrant boat said in June that Australian authorities paid him and his crew more than US$30,000 to return to Indonesia and never again engage in people-smuggling.
A Senate hearing into the allegations questioned on Friday whether a payment was ever made in the case, which saw 71 asylum-seekers and crew arrive on Indonesia's Rote island.
"Because it goes to the heart of operational activities... I am not able to answer that question," Australian Border Force operational commander Major-General Andrew Bottrell said.
"We are neither confirming nor denying it," added Michael Pezzullo, secretary of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
Pezzullo said Australian authorities' actions were legal. — AFP