Karel Sroubek case: Smiles in Prague which helped convince jury

Author
Jared Savage,
Section
National,
Publish Date
Friday, 1 February 2019, 6:15a.m.
Karel Sroubek.
Karel Sroubek.
Photograph shows Karel Sroubek smiling outside his father's shop in Prague but "fleeting trips" back into a country do not undermine permanent need for protection, says says QC for convicted drug smuggler.

Karel Sroubek can be seen smiling outside his father's shop in the Czech Republic in a photograph taken after he came into New Zealand under an assumed identity claiming his life was in danger in his homeland.

The photograph - released to the Herald under the Official Information Act - was produced as evidence at his 2011 trial on charges of using a false passport and lying to immigration officials.

Sroubek entered New Zealand in 2003 on a false passport in the name of Jan Antolik, later claiming the new identity was because he witnessed a murder in his homeland.

The representative kickboxer told the jury he had fled his home in the Czech Republic in fear of corrupt police officers and a criminal after witnessing a murder, then came to New Zealand in 2003 on a false passport in the name of Jan Antolik.

He was questioned in the trial about returning to the Czech Republic, as well as the photograph, and the jury found him guilty on all charges.

However, Sroubek was discharged without conviction by the trial judge who believed his evidence.

He used his second chance to smuggle 5kg of MDMA, a Class-B drug, into New Zealand from the Czech Republic.

The false passport of Karel Sroubek in the name of Jan Antolik. Photo / Supplied
The false passport of Karel Sroubek in the name of Jan Antolik. Photo / Supplied

His fear of returning to the Czech Republic was ostensibly the reason why Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway cancelled Sroubek's deportation liability - a controversial decision which soon became a political football.

After coming under fire, Lees-Galloway reviewed his decision after the Herald revealed Sroubek had twice successfully applied for his bail conditions to be loosened so he could travel to the Czech Republic in 2009.

The bail judgement and the photograph was not in the material provided to Lees-Galloway.

But following a review of the Sroubek's file, the Immigration Minister changed his mind and reinstated the deportation notice for the convicted drug smuggler.

When announcing the U-turn in November, Lees-Galloway said he was reinstating Sroubek's deportation liability because Sroubek's previous convictions in the Czech Republic made him an excluded person under the Immigration Act.

A photograph of Karel Sroubek standing outside his father's butchery shop in the Czech Republic despite saying he fled to New Zealand because of fears for his safety. Photo / NZ Police
A photograph of Karel Sroubek standing outside his father's butchery shop in the Czech Republic despite saying he fled to New Zealand because of fears for his safety. Photo / NZ Police
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway, with Immigration NZ boss Greg Patchell, announcing his decision to deport Sroubek. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway, with Immigration NZ boss Greg Patchell, announcing his decision to deport Sroubek. Photo / Mark Mitchell

An excluded person is someone convicted and sentenced to jail for at least 12 months in the 10 years before arriving in New Zealand. Sroubek came to New Zealand in 2003.

While the Czech convictions were in the material given to Lees-Galloway, Immigration officials did not draw his attention to Sroubek's status as an excluded person.

Immigration officials told him there were two matters for which Sroubek could be deported: the conviction for importing MDMA, and the use of a false identity to come to New Zealand.

Asked if officials should have considered whether Sroubek was an excluded person before giving him the file, Lees-Galloway said a review by Michael Heron, QC, should answer that question.

The case is likely to drag on for months, if not years.

Sroubek's lawyer Paul Wicks, QC, has confirmed the Minister's decision will be appealed to the Immigration Protection Tribunal.

Given the appeal is active, Wicks said he could not comment on any specific circumstances of Sroubek's travel to the Czech Republic.

However, speaking generally, Wicks pointed out the legal principles of "re-availment" - where someone's refugee status can cease through their own actions such as returning to the country they fled from.

Any case involving alleged "re-availment" must be judged on its individual merits against three elements, said Wicks, including the intention of the individual.

"Fleeting trips back into a country do not detract from a permanent need for protection," said Wicks.

Sroubek's mother Mila said he returned to the Czech Republic, from Germany, for one night only in 2009.

"It was his impulsive decision at that moment because he was very homesick, but we insisted that he immediately return to Germany," she told Radio New Zealand.

"He travelled under someone else's identity, Jan Antolik. And that was the main reason why. It also offered him a little bit of cover."

Sroubek came to New Zealand from the Czech Republic in September 2003 to start a new life as Jan Antolik.

He was 22 at the time, and said his family had been threatened by two police officers who wanted them to lie and clear the main suspect in a murder investigation.

Instead, he left a videotaped witness statement that was later crucial in convicting the killer, and fled the country with a doctored passport.

But he was unmasked in October 2009 when Czech police gave Auckland detectives details of his identity and an arrest warrant on minor charges in connection with the 2003 murder.

Karel Sroubek at his trial in the Auckland District Court in 2011. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Karel Sroubek at his trial in the Auckland District Court in 2011. Photo / Steven McNicholl

On hearing the evidence, Judge Wade was convinced that Antolik would still be in danger from corrupt Czech authorities and the man he helped convict of murder if he were deported back to the Czech Republic.

"I am satisfied that your initial false applications were as a result of you doing the right thing, not the wrong thing," Judge Wade said in sentencing Sroubek in 2012.

"Furthermore, had you been frank with the authorities when you first came here, it seems plain that you would have been granted a work permit and, ultimately, residence in any event, on your own merits."

Judge Wade was unaware Sroubek had been arrested as part of Operation Ark, a covert investigation into Ecstasy-like pills, just days after his false passport trial in 2011.

He was later convicted of being a party to the manufacture of Class-C controlled drugs, although the conviction was later overturned on a technicality.

Now retired, Judge Wade last year told the Herald he still believed Sroubek's story about fearing for his life.

"It was all very suspicious that the Czech police sought an international arrest warrant for the most trivial of matters. Obviously keen to get him back," said Judge Wade.

Just two years later, Sroubek was arrested and charged with smuggling 5kg of MDMA, better known as Ecstasy, from the Czech Republic.

Sroubek was found guilty by the jury in 2016 and sentenced to five years and nine months in prison.

Now 37, Sroubek is still in prison after failing to convince the Parole Board to release him early.

Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson's take on the Sroubek decision.
Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson's take on the Sroubek decision.
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