An accused people-smuggling kingpin faces being stripped of his refugee visa and sent home to Iraq after a political storm erupted over how the 54-year-old could have evaded Australian security agencies.
Baghdad-born Ali al-Abassi has been living in public housing just minutes from the Canberra headquarters of ASIO and Australian Federal Police.
He has used the cover of working as a supermarket trolley collector.
ABC TV's Four Corners on Monday identified him as "Captain Emad", the head of an international people-smuggling ring that has made millions of dollars organising boats for Australia-bound asylum seekers.
He came to Australia by boat, arriving at Christmas Island in January 2010. He claimed refugee status and was issued a protection visa three months later, allowing him to join his family who had come by boat in 2009.
With Opposition Leader Tony Abbott accusing the Government of incompetence, the AFP indicated Capt. Emad was the subject of one of its "significant investigations" targeting people-smuggling ventures in Australia and overseas.
The AFP said it was aware of some of the claims before Four Corners went to air. It said of the 14 people-smuggling organisers arrested in the past four years, five had been jailed for up to seven years.
Four alleged Australian-based organisers were arrested in March.
A senior agency source said authorities' biggest problem pursuing Capt. Emad and a handful of other accused people smugglers now living in Australia would be convincing witnesses to testify.
It is understood that the AFP suspects Capt. Emad is part of an Australia-wide network.
Despite insisting Australia's system for processing asylum claims was "rigorous", Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has ordered his department to investigate Capt. Emad's case, warning his protection visa could be torn up.
Until yesterday, Capt. Emad was employed as a trolley collector at a supermarket in Canberra, working as a subcontractor for the Sydney company Jae My Holdings.
Company director Susan Lee told _The West Australian _ she terminated the contract yesterday when she learnt of his alleged past.
Ms Lee said she had contracted his company about six weeks ago after he produced company extracts and a passport, which she believed showed he was an Australian citizen. She photocopied this document.
_The West Australian _ has confirmed Capt. Emad does not have a passport but a so-called certificate of identity that allows people on protection visas to travel.
A company search showed Ali al-Abassi is director of Top Collector Pty Ltd, which was established in April. It gives his date of birth as July 19, 1957, the same date as on his certificate of identity.
When his wife Hanan Mohammad Ahmad al-Abassi, three sons Ahmad, Muhammad and Murad and daughter Sarah claimed asylum in 2009 they said he was dead.
Attempts to contact Capt. Emad were unsuccessful.
HMAS Ararat yesterday intercepted the 49th boat in Australian waters this year, stopping it north-west of Christmas Island with 49 people aboard.
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