Tourist ‘set up’ by Border Force wins lawsuit

Exclusive: A 25-year-old man "set up" by a Border Force Officer at Sydney airport has won a confidential settlement with the Federal Government over his ordeal.

The Canberra man has spoken out for the first time about how he was detained and interrogated at Sydney airport for hours by a counter-terrorism unit officer who seized his mobile phone and secretly sent texts in what was believed to be an attempt to entrap him.

 

A Border Force officer took Omar’s phone and sent secret texts in a bid to entrap him. Picture: Nicole Garmston
A Border Force officer took Omar’s phone and sent secret texts in a bid to entrap him. Picture: Nicole Garmston

Omar whose name has been changed to protect him from further persecution, filed a District Court writ in 2017 over his treatment and has won a confidential settlement with the government for false imprisonment, deprivation of liberty, nervous shock, humiliation and embarrassment.

Omar has never had any criminal or terrorism links and was just travelling to Turkey to meet his parents for a family holiday together in Cyprus.

He told News Corp he took legal action not for the money but to stop Border Force officials from doing it again.

"They thought they could do anything they wanted," Omar said.

"And the person who did this to me only got a slap on the wrist."

A spokesman for ABF said the parties reached a confidential settlement agreement.

"As that agreement was confidential, no further comment can be made."

But despite the actions of the counter terrorism unit officer being illegal and a serious breach of privacy with motivations that have never been made public, Border Force did not notify the corruption watchdog, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI), that oversights them.

An ABF spokesman refused to reveal whether the officer was still working for ABF.

"It would not be appropriate to comment on the personal circumstances of current or former ABF officers," he said.

ACLEI, did not respond to requests for comments about whether it would launch its own investigation.

Omar was heading to Cyprus with his parents for a family holiday. Picture: Supplied.
Omar was heading to Cyprus with his parents for a family holiday. Picture: Supplied.

The officer was found to have breached the APS Code of Conduct and disciplined under the Public Service Act 1999.

For Omar the nightmare of his ordeal has not left him.

"I was terrified. It was like a horrible movie. My brothers dropped me off at the airport and I just disappeared for four hours. No one knew where I was."

Taken into a back room, he was interrogated about his life and family.

The Border Force officers took his phone and computer and demanded the access codes and then took his phone into another room where he could not see what was happening.

"It was not just one person, it was multiple people all asking me the same questions over and over again. People kept coming and going from the room," Omar said.

"They were questioning me about my religion, whether my family had money, my mum and my sister.

"They asked if I pray five times a day? If my sister was married? If she was going to get married? Does my mum cover up? Am I in a sexual relationship with my girlfriend?

"I wanted to know what has this got to do with my holiday with my parents?"

He was also strip searched against his will and by the time he was released had missed his flight.

Canberra man, Omar, successfully sued the Federal Government over his treatment at the hands of an Australian Border Officer. Picture: Supplied
Canberra man, Omar, successfully sued the Federal Government over his treatment at the hands of an Australian Border Officer. Picture: Supplied

Organising a second flight the following day, he was again stopped by ABF officers, but this time he called solicitor Zali Burrows and they let him leave.

It wasn't until six months later, the Integrity and Professional Standards Branch of Border Force wrote to him informing him, they were investigating the "inappropriate use" of his phone by an officer.

"This behaviour does not uphold the standards expected of our officers at the border and on behalf of the department and the ACBPS [Australian Customs and Border Protection Service now Border Force] I apologise that it occurred," the letter said.

Border Force has always refused to reveal the content of the text messages sent by the officer.

Lawyer Zali Burrows intervened on Omar’s behalf and ran the successful law suit against the Federal Government. Picture: AAP
Lawyer Zali Burrows intervened on Omar’s behalf and ran the successful law suit against the Federal Government. Picture: AAP

Omar's lawyer Zali Burrows said "Smart Traveller should issue a travel warning to leave your mobile phone at home in case you get set up by a bored officer."

"The officer must have realised texts are time recorded. He is on CCTV and quickly deleted what he did - certainly a dumb way to set someone up," she said.

"If it wasn't for the brave and honest woman officer reporting him, we would never know what rogue officers get up to when they are inspecting our devices."

Documents obtained under freedom of information laws revealed it was a "counter-terrorism unit" officer who sent the SMS messages without Omar's knowledge or permission.

Originally published as Tourist 'set up' by Border Force wins lawsuit


HOT SPOTS: Lockyer's worst streets for break-ins, theft

Premium Content HOT SPOTS: Lockyer's worst streets for break-ins, theft

ARE you worried about break-ins and theft in your area? New data from the...

Qld economy lags but jobs bounce back

Premium Content Qld economy lags but jobs bounce back

Shut state trails all but locked-down Victoria in pandemic recovery

VOTE NOW: Lockyer, Somerset's best real estate agents

VOTE NOW: Lockyer, Somerset's best real estate agents

Here's the list of the region's best real estate agents.