ON AIR: Overnight Talk

12AM - 5AM

Watch: Immigration Minister defends Sroubek decision: 'I had to consider his safety'

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Thu, 29 Nov 2018, 8:10AM

Watch: Immigration Minister defends Sroubek decision: 'I had to consider his safety'

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Thu, 29 Nov 2018, 8:10AM

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway says he "had to weigh up Karel Sroubek's personal safety with public safety" when making the decision to grant the Czech drug smuggler residency.

Yesterday, the Immigration NZ review of the case found that Sroubek may be liable for deportation based on new information that Sroubek was convicted in the Czech Republic. Immigration NZ did not know this because Sroubek came to New Zealand under a different name.

Iain Lees-Galloway told Mike Hosking he had take into consideration the claim that Sroubek feared for his life if he returned to the Czech Republic. 

"There are expectations that we take into consideration peoples' personal safety, whatever they have done we are not a country that just sends people off into a situation where their personal safety is going to be at risk.This has to be weighed up against public safety."

"What I was doing was weighing his safety against public safety and on the information that I had, I made the determination that I did. Of course when I got new information, I got the full picture, I made a different decision. 

When challenged by Mike Hosking that he all the necessary information since the start, the Minister again reiterated that he had to take Sroubek's safety into consideration.

"I need to take into consideration a risk to his safety and then I need to take into consideration what the risk to his personal safety was."

Responding to questions over why the Czech drug smuggler's safety was of such concern, Lees-Galloway said "New Zealand is a country where we don't send people to their death".

"A judge has previously found that he thought he would be at risk if he returned to the Czech Republic."

When asked why he didn't seek legal advice prior to his decision, Lees-Galloway said he didn't feel he needed it.

"An enormous amount of work goes into preparing these files. Officials put these files together. There is legal advice during the preparation of these files. For me there was no legal question that I needed legal advice on."

"Of course, I took into consideration that he may be embellishing, that he may be misleading."

He said he followed the "usual process" with Sroubek's case.

"I also had in the file statements form official documents that he had no violent history in New Zealand, that he presented a low risk of re offending and that he had no connections with gangs."

The Immigration Minister said the fact that Karel Sroubek was wanted by Czech authorities when he was granted residency doesn't change the circumstances. 

"Just because I've got more information about what a person has done in this country doesn't necessarily change the risk to them back in their home country."

Iain Lees-Galloway says he accepts he could have asked more questions but stands by the decision he made.

"I made a decision based on the information I had. When I got new information and a fuller picture, I made a different decision."

When challenged over what new information he has now, Lees-Galloway said he has to look at the bigger picture.

"I have to think more thoroughly than that. I've got to actually consider all the facts in the case."

The Minister said he has to take Sroubek's safety into his decision. 

Lees-Galloway said he won't resign over this issues because he doesn't want to "run away from it".

"Quiting is running away from this issue. I want to face up to it. I want to sort it out ad I want to make sure that all these decision are made correctly every single time, that responsibility is on me and I am facing up to that responsibility."

Lees-Galloway has apologised to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern over his handling of the matter.

Immigration New Zealand deputy chief executive Greg Patchell told Mike Hosking he can't comment on the minister's decision.

"Regrettably I can't answer that question. It's a discretion decision for the minister and the minister alone."

He said the Lees-Galloway isn't required to read the files before making the decisions because he has absolute discretion.

"He doesn't even have to look at the file actually in terms of considering the request. If he does he needs to consider the file, consider all the balancing information in it and make a decision as an independent decision maker."

Patchell said the information Lees-Galloway labelled as new was in the original file but wasn't "relevant to the decision".

"That summary information was in the original file [but] that information wasn't specifically relevant to the decision he was asked to make the first time around. The minister sub-sequentially asked us to do some additional work and we have got more information from the courts and the Czech Republic."

He said the information they got from the court showed Karel Sroubek was "present when he was convicted".

The deputy chief executive said the reason Sroubek's trip back to the Czech Republic wasn't included in the file was because it would be seen to be prejudicial.

Case history

Lees-Galloway had cancelled Sroubek's deportation liability in September and granted him residency in his real name, even though Sroubek had gang associations and is in prison for smuggling MDMA.

Earlier this month, the minister ordered a review of the decision after a court document noted that Sroubek twice travelled to Europe in 2009, which potentially contradicted the reasons why he was granted residency in the first place.

Sroubek's case has dominated political headlines this month as the National Party has called for Lees-Galloway to be sacked for what they say was an incompetent decision.

Lees-Galloway came under intense pressure after he conceded that he made the decision on Sroubek in 45 minutes and did not read the entire case file.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has stood by her minister throughout the saga, expressing full confidence in him and saying that the process around these cases needed to be improved.

Immigration NZ investigated the case in the previous weeks and handed the case back to the minister at the start of this week.

National MPs have used Question Time this month to reveal that a house that Sroubek claimed a financial interest in was allegedly burgled, that Sroubek had allegedly made threatening phone calls to his estranged wife, and that a man and his family were put into a witness protection programme due to alleged actions by Sroubek - in a court case where he was acquitted.

Sroubek released a statement saying he had nothing to do with the alleged burglary, and that the key witness in the trial that involved the witness protection programme was discredited.

Sroubek's mother Mila Sroubkova has came out in support of her son, telling Radio NZ's Checkpoint that her son was not a gangster and pleading to Lees-Galloway to give her son one final chance.

She also confirmed that Sroubek travelled to the Czech Republic in 2009 for one night, leaving after his family told him to go for his own safety.

Timeline

2003: Karel Sroubek flees Czech Republic as witness to a murder. Enters New Zealand with false passport in name of Jan Antolik. Later gains residency and represents his new country as a kickboxer.

2009: True identity discovered when Czech police contact their counterparts in NZ.

2010: Arrested with two Hells Angels gang members on aggravated robbery and blackmail charges. Acquitted on all charges.

2011: Jury finds him guilty of using false passport and giving false details to Immigration officials. Arrested soon after as part of Operation Ark, a covert investigation into Ecstasy-like pills.

2012: Judge discharges him without conviction on false identity charges so Antolik is not automatically deported.

2014: Convicted of manufacturing Class-C drug from Operation Ark arrest. Conviction overturned but Crown abandons second trial. A few months later, arrested importing 5kg of MDMA, a Class-B controlled drug, used in Ecstasy.

2016: Convicted of importing MDMA and jailed for five years and nine months, but identity kept secret by sentencing judge.

2017: Name suppression lifted.

2018, Sept 17: Parole Board declines early release.

Sept 19: Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway cancels Sroubek's deportation, grants resident visa in his real name with conditions.

Oct 26: Sroubek claims financial interest in $2.3 million Remuera property, which is allegedly burgled a few days later.

Nov 1: Lees-Galloway says he did not know of court documents showing Sroubek had returned to Europe in 2009. Orders Immigration NZ to investigate.

Nov 6: National reveals court documents that show a man and his family were in a witness protection programme because of alleged actions by Sroubek and two other men with connections to the Hells Angels.

Nov 8: National alleges during Question Time that Sroubek made a threatening phone call to his estranged wife on May 3.

Nov 8: Sroubek releases statement saying he had nothing to with the alleged house burglary, and was acquitted in the trial that involved the witness protection programme.

Nov 8: Pressure intensifies on Lees-Galloway after he concedes he didn't read the entire Sroubek case file and made his decision in under an hour. National calls for his resignation.

Nov 9: Jacinda Ardern continues to have confidence in Lees-Galloway, but wants the process around deciding these cases improved.

Nov 13: Sroubek's mother Mila Sroubkova tells Radio NZ's Checkpoint that her son is not a gangster, and fears for his safety if deported are very real.

Nov 27: Jacinda Ardern says Lees-Galloway's job is safe and expects to release a decision on Sroubek imminently.

ON AIR: Overnight Talk

12AM - 5AM