The Sydney Morning Herald has reportedly obtained photographic evidence that proves Australian officials paid human traffickers to take a group of asylum seekers away from its shores.
Allegations surfaced earlier last week that Australian officials effectively bribed a group of people smugglers, who had 65 asylum seekers in tow, to ditch their original route to New Zealand and return to Indonesia with their human cargo.
The photos appear to show stacks of crisp $100 bills, which Indonesia’s police force say were handed over to six traffickers piloting the vessels that landed on Indonesia’s Rote Island in late May. TIME has not been able to independently verify the photos.
“We believe the payments happened,” General Endang Sunjaya, the police chief of Nusa Tenggara Timur province, told the newspaper. “They all said the same thing. They were paid by Australian officials to return to Indonesia.”
During an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Tuesday, Thomas Vargas, an Indonesia representative at the U.N. refugee agency, confirmed that several asylum seekers debriefed by one of the organization’s staffers corroborated the allegations.
“They indicated they had been with Australian authorities for several days,” Vargas told ABC. “At one point, they saw the boat captain receive a thick envelope and return back to two boats that were then turned around to the open sea and several days later they arrived in Indonesia.”
If confirmed, such payments would themselves amount to human trafficking, say human-rights groups. So far, Canberra has not denied the accusations.
“There’s really only one thing to say here, and that is that we’ve stopped the boats,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters on Sunday, according to the Guardian. “That’s good for Australia, it’s good for Indonesia and it’s particularly good for all those who want to see a better world.”
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