Refugee advocate charged with sexual assault

A high-profile refugee advocate and specialist immigration lawyer has been charged with the sexual and indecent assault of two refugees and two former clients, dating back almost 17 years.

Fairfax Media can reveal David Bitel, an immigration law specialist and principal of Parish Patience Lawyers, was arrested by police on Tuesday and formally accused of the crimes between 1995 and 2004.

In a statement, police did not name the 60-year-old Mr Bitel, but Fairfax Media has been aware of the investigation for some years.

Police will allege the crimes occurred in Mr Bitel's Pitt Street office.

The allegations relate to four men of Nepalese, Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi origin.

"As a result of extensive and ongoing investigations, police [on Tuesday] arrested a 60-year-old man," a police statement said.

"He was taken to The Rocks Police Station and charged with seven offences including sexual intercourse without consent and indecent assault."

He was granted strict conditional bail and will appear in the Downing Centre Local Court on January 22.

One of Mr Bitel's alleged victims, a 42-year-old permanent resident from Nepal, told Fairfax Media he first met him in 1995.

That same year, Mr Bitel became the president of the Refugee Council of Australia, an office he held for a decade. He has been the chairman of the Australian Refugee Foundation and was the founding chairman of the Refugee Advice and Casework Service.

He is secretary-general of the International Commission of Jurists (Australian Section) and he is a judicial member of the Equal Opportunity Division of the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal. He has been awarded the Paul Cullen Humanitarian Award for his work on behalf on refugees.

He is on the Law Society of NSW Human Rights Committee and in an article celebrating him in the society's journal, Mr Bitel boasts that he is known as "the father of Bangladeshi Australians".

Fairfax Media understands the other charges relate to a 35-year-old Bangladeshi national, now an Australian citizen, and another man of Indian origin.

Mr Bitel said he had no comment about the charges when contacted this morning.

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