POLICE are investigating immigration officials for possible criminal conduct in the kidnapping of a seven-year-old girl without her asylum seeker father’s knowledge. In 2003 immigration staff hatched an elaborate plot to spirit the child away to her mother in Tehran as her father, the legal custodian, was in solitary confinement at Baxter Detention Centre. Baxter closed in 2007.

Australian Federal Police are now investigating to see whether officials committed a crime under South Australian law, overstepping federal deportation powers. Children cannot be removed from South Australia without a parent’s consent. The national co-ordinator for A Just Australia, Kate Gauthier, who brought the allegations, said immigration staff acted criminally. ”It’s this simple: someone took his child without permission and without his knowledge. You cannot tell me that is not a crime.”

In this case, the then Baxter officer tricked the asylum seeker, Mr X, asking permission for he and his wife to take the little girl shopping. Mr X said: ”No problem. Yes, go and enjoy yourself.” Instead, an immigration official put the girl on a plane to Iran, plotting to distract her with toys if she resisted and asked to say goodbye to her father.

Yesterday, the former immigration minister Philip Ruddock said he was not aware of police investigations and knew of Mr X’s case only from reports. ”Was I aware of the precise management of the issue? No. Would I have been micro-managing it and familiar with every detail? The answer is no,” he said.

The seriousness of criminal allegations in Mr X’s case have forced an internal review by Jeff Lamond – who was formerly employed by the Immigration Department – to be referred to Dennis Pearce, a former Commonwealth Ombudsman and expert in Commonwealth administrative law. Professor Pearce’s appointment clears a perception of bias created by Mr Lamond’s past employment with the department. It is expected the review will be finalised by the end of October.

Ms Gauthier said the case demonstrated a power imbalance between asylum seekers and their keepers which allowed the abuse of detainees to continue unchecked. ”He was an asylum seeker and the Port Augusta police don’t give a s— about what happens in Baxter detention centre.”

Inspector Peter Crouch, of the South Australian police, said any complaints made against a prison were taken seriously. A spokesman for the Federal Police said police diligently investigated such complaints.

Mr X has since been granted asylum in Melbourne. He attempted suicide in the months after the girl’s abduction and is seeking compensation. His wife and daughter will be helped to reunite in Australia if they wish, a departmental spokesman said.

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