Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 30 June 1994
Page: 2439


Senator SHORT —I address a further question to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs following the answer to my preceding question. I ask: is the minister aware that warrants were issued on 23 March 1994 for the arrest of Mr Antonios Obeid and Mr Jean Youssef Chahine in connection with the bombing a month earlier of a church in the town of Jounieh in Lebanon, and that on 13 April 1994 ASIO advised that it had interviewed Antonios Obeid and Chahine, both of whom are living in Australia? If so, will he table all information his department may have provided him on this matter?


Senator BOLKUS —I am not aware of those warrants being issued, or the date of those being issued.


Senator Alston —You're the minister, aren't you?


Senator BOLKUS —I am not the Attorney-General, nor the Minister for Justice, but I do represent them. I must say I am also not a minister of the government that may have issued these warrants, that being the Lebanese government. Having said that, I will take those particular parts of the question on notice and pass them on to the minister. In respect of any ASIO advice, I will also get a considered response for Senator Short on that.


Senator SHORT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I seek leave to incorporate a briefing note to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs from his department on these matters. It specifies the dates and the fact that warrants were issued for arrest, and it also advises him that on 13 April ASIO advised that it had interviewed both Obeid and Chahine and it gave certain advisings on that. I ask: given that the minister has said again that he is not aware of these matters, why is he still misleading the Senate, and why is the government so intent on hiding the truth from the Australian public on this matter?


The PRESIDENT —Is leave granted for incorporation?

  Leave granted.

  The document read as follows—

Jean Obeid: Allegations of Criminal Conduct in Lebanon

Issue:

A recent article published in the Australian reports that Samir Geagea, a former Lebanese forces (LF) militia chief, has been charged with the 1990 slaying of a rival Maronite Christian politician, Mr Dany Chamoun, his wife and two sons. The article also states that among those charged with the slaying is a Jean Obeid who is believed to be living in Australia and who was a senior aide to the LF chief of security.

Talking Points:

A check of the department's movements database has revealed that only one Jean Obeid has entered Australia since 1990. That person was born in 1991 and he left in May 1992 after a short stay.

It is obvious that this person is not the Jean Obeid referred to in the Australian article.

It is not my practice to speculate on who the person referred to in the article might be, nor is it my practice to rush to judgment on a person's guilt simply because of a newspaper report.

Background:

A check of our movements database has revealed that three Jean Obeids from Lebanon have entered Australia. The first, (DOB 1955) arrived on 11.1.84 and departed on 22.1.84. The second, (DOB 1938) arrived on 17.6.88 and departed on 5.7.88. The third (DOB 1991) arrived on 16.1.92 and departed 7.5.92. We have no record of any other Jean Obeid having arrived in Australia since 1990.

It may be that the Jean Obeid referred to in the Australian article is Antonios Obeid who arrived in Australia under the RSHP on 29 June 1993.

The reason for this assumption is that in a cable from Damascus dated 28 March 1994, we were advised that warrants had been issued in Lebanon on 23 March 1994 for the arrest of a number of supposed LF members in connection with the Jounieh Church bombing on 27 February this year. Two of those persons were Antonios Elias Obeid (DOB 1961) and Jean Youssef Chahine. Antonios Obeid is described as the son-in-law of a Geages who is referred to in the Australian article.

The Australian article was referred to ASIO on 23 June 1994. It has undertaken a preliminary check and advised that it has "no trace of a Jean Obeid".

On 13 April, ASIO advised that it had interviewed both Antonios Obeid and Chahine and "is of the opinion that it would not have been impossible for either to be involved either directly or indirectly but proof either way is likely to be difficult to find", and that "the balance of probabilities is that they have been targeted because of their past association with a Geages rather than solid evidence of their complicity in the Jounich bombing".

Our records indicate that Antonios Obeid was granted a special humanitarian visa on 9 June 1993 and arrived here on 29 June 1993 (some seven months before the bombing) and that he has not departed since his arrival. Chahine arrival here on 8 March 1993 on a Fiance visa.

In a cable dated 28 June 1994, our Principal Migration Officer in Damascus has advised that:

An application from Antonios Obeid was lodged in Cyprus following initial telephone representations from Mr Eddie Obeid MLC (NSW) in August 1992. Mr Eddie Obeid stated that Antonios Obeid (a distant relative) was in danger from the Syrian authorities in Lebanon because of his association with the Lebanese Forces Militia and needed to leave Lebanon immediately.

When arrangements were made for our migration officer to visit Cyprus in October 1992, Mr Obeid MLC was advised by fax on 31 August 1992 that Antonios Obeid should lodge an application for RSHP entry in Cyprus no later than 28 September 1992 to allow interview to proceed. Antonios Obeid approached the Australian High Commission in Nicosia on 21 September 1992 and an RSHP application and nomination forms (which had been completed in Mr Obeid's (MLC) office in Australia and forwarded to applicant) were lodged.

He was nominated by a brother, George Elias (DOB 1964) of 20 Bilgia Street, Ryde—an Australian citizen holding Australian Passport No. K1318586.

Antonios Obeid was interviewed in Nicosia on 5 October 1992. A detailed written statement of claims was secured from him together with written background material.

On 26 November 1992 completed security forms were forwarded separately to ASIO with Antonios Obeid's detailed statement of claims and supporting documentation. He (and wife) had submitted clear penal certificates with their application (dated 22 August 1992 and 22 September 1992).

ASIO cleared Antonios Obeid on 17 December 1992.

On 8 February 1993 the Principal Migration Officer decided claims of applicant could be accepted, that the public interest criteria were satisfied and that the case could proceed to visa issue subject to medical clearances and security clearance for wife.

Ultimate approval was delayed by pregnancy/birth of second child and the need for the new born child and mother to complete medicals. Security clearance on wife was initiated on 11 February 1993 and results of clearance were received on 24 February 1993.

Visa No. 517 0002154G was issued in Nicosia on 9 June 1993.

If Antonios Obeid is the Jean Obeid referred to in the Australian article, we have no information on our files in Canberra to indicate that he was involved in the 1990 slaying referred to in the Australian article. We have called for our Damascus file which should arrive here early next week.

Office: November 1 Task Force

Contact: Peter Judd

Telephone: 264 2501

Date: 24 June 1994


Senator BOLKUS —We have had Senator Short coming in here over the space of a week and a half raising names, and quite often getting them wrong. In this particular case he asked me whether I knew for a fact when those warrants were issued. In these cases there are obviously security checks. As I said yesterday in respect to Antonios Obeid, there was a security check before that person left the Lebanon. I know that security assessments are made from time to time but, as I said to him, I will give him a considered response. In ordinary circumstances it has always been understood by both sides of the parliament that, when it comes to security matters, there are ways of addressing them, whether public or private. I will give a considered response and, in the context of that response—


Senator Short —Will you do it today?


Senator BOLKUS —Look, we are not in the outer of Victoria Park watching the Collingwood Football Club; we are in the Senate. I am giving an answer. The honourable senator will get the considered response in respect to security advice when I am ready.