Portuguese couple detained in Darwin after arriving by boat from Timor-Leste
Two Portuguese nationals convicted of embezzling more than $800,000 from Timor-Leste have been detained by Australian Border Force after apparently fleeing Dili in a boat and arriving at the Darwin Sailing Club.
Guardian Australia understands the duo arrived between Wednesday evening and early Thursday morning at the club on the outskirts of Darwin, and were detained by Australian authorities.
One person said the boat was still on the beach on Thursday morning. He described it as a 4.5-5m power boat “that a lot of people from border force were interested in”.
“The Indonesian-branded jerry cans might have given it away,” he said, adding the 90-horsepower outboard appeared to have a Darwin business sticker on it.
Border Force confirmed two Portuguese nationals were detained “after arriving unlawfully in Darwin”, but said it could not comment further as investigations were continuing.
Border Force would not confirm the identities of the couple, but an arrest warrant request from the Timor-Leste magistrate of public prosecutions office, provided to Timorese media and seen by Guardian Australia, says the pair are Tiago Luis de Vilhena Texeira Guerra and Chang Fong Fong Guerra.
The couple were arrested in October 2014 at Dili airport, and this year sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of embezzlement.
The letter outlining the request said prosecutors had been informed by an Australian Federal Police officer on Thursday that the officer had received information the pair were in Darwin “and will continue their trip to Portugal”.
The pair’s passports had been confiscated, but the letter alleged the Portuguese embassy issued them new passports “to enable them to escape to Darwin by boat”.
“As the defendants are violating the measures applied to them in the form of banning them to overseas travel … [we] request the issuance of arrest warrant, for further extradition from Darwin, Australia, to Timor-Leste for due legal effect.”
Australia has no extradition treaty with Timor-Leste.
The pair were held on remand in Timor-Leste after being arrested, but it is unclear for how long. Five months after their arrest, Portugalbased supporters said Tiago Guerra was being held in Dili’s Becora jail without charge, and that his partner was unable to leave the country. Their children are believed to be in Portugal.
Family and supporters have campaigned on behalf of the pair since their arrest, claiming Guerra has been subject to unhygienic conditions, a lack of medical care and a lack of justice.
According to reports translated by Timor-Leste based human rights organisation L’ao Hamutuk, the couple were accused of diverting money from taxes levied on oil companies to a Nigerian man, Bobby Boye, through a Macau company.
Boye, who had been hired as a consultant to the Timor-Leste government, was arrested by the FBI in the US in June 2015 and eventually pleaded guilty in a separate case to defrauding the Timor Leste treasury of about US$3.5m. He was sentenced to six years in prison in the US.
A petition, reportedly signed by more than 3,500 people, was delivered to the Portuguese government last month, calling on it to extradite the couple from Timor-Leste.
A week earlier the couple lodged an appeal, claiming the case was “full of inconsistencies and contradictions”. The appeal, expected to progress slowly through the Timorese justice system, had not yet been decided when the pair apparently fled.
Late on Monday Border Force confirmed the couple were still detained in Australia.
The Portuguese embassy has been contacted for comment.
Raimundos Oki contributed to this report.
The beach outside the Darwin Sailing Club, where the yacht landed. Photograph: Helen Davidson for the Guardian