PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia's highest court cleared the way Wednesday for an Afghan man to be extradited to Australia on charges of people smuggling, as Canberra seeks to stem an influx of boatpeople.
A Federal Court panel dismissed an appeal by Afghan businessman Said Mir Bahrami, who is fighting an extradition request by Australia, where he is wanted on 25 counts of illegally bringing in boatpeople.
"He'll be sent (to Australia) to face the charges there," Bahrami's lawyer, Karpal Singh, told reporters after the decision. "It's a test case."
Malaysia has emerged as a key transit point for migrants and asylum seekers seeking a better life in Australia - typically by traveling through Indonesia - after escaping war or poverty in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Australia and Malaysia struck a deal last year in which the former would send 800 boatpeople to Malaysia in exchange for 4,000 registered refugees in a bid to deter those contemplating the dangerous sea voyage to Australia.
But the deal broke down amid Australian concerns over the fact that Malaysia was not a signatory to UN refugee conventions, with critics expressing worry over the welfare of the 800 boatpeople.
Both the Malaysian prosecution and defence said Bahrami's case was the first in the country involving the use of an extradition threat to go after smugglers, suggesting a possible new tack in the battle.
Bahrami, 40, is accused of moving people by boat from Indonesia to Australia in 2010 and 2011.
The Afghan, a businessman based in Indonesia but who was arrested in Malaysia last year over the Australian charges, has denied the accusations.
Bahrami's extradition now awaits a Home Ministry order. Prosecutors said they did not know when that would be issued.
In a similar case, a 41-year-old Iraqi is also fighting extradition from Malaysia to Australia on three charges of smuggling people from Indonesia and elsewhere to Australia in 2001.
Prosecutors have identified him as suspected smuggling ring leader Sayed Omeid. The man says his real name is Ibrahim Ahmad Ismael and denies the charges.
He was arrested in 2010 in Malaysia on the Australian charges after serving a year in prison for possessing fake foreign passports. A lower court will hear his case next month.