Kiwi personnel in Iraq mission rack up military charges

Kiwi military personnel overseas have committed serious crimes, causing reputational damage and racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines in the past five years.

According to extensive documents obtained under the Official Information Act and analysed by 1 NEWS, almost 5000 charges have been laid in the military court against about 3750 NZDF personnel since the beginning of 2013 - almost 20 charges per week, on average.

About 250 of the charges were listed as being laid against personnel serving or stationed overseas, including 24 against personnel involved in the Iraq mission.

New Zealand Chief of Defence Force Air Marshal Kevin Short admitted the number of charges was "high".

Air Marshal Kevin Short said NZDF the behaviour has the potential to damage our reputation. Source: 1 NEWS

But Minister of Defence Ron Mark told 1 NEWS he was not overly concerned by the number of charges laid against personnel deployed in the mission, saying when he visited "everyone spoke very, very highly of our Defence Force personnel over there".

New Zealand in 2015 committed up to 143 NZDF personnel at a time to the joint Kiwi-Australian force at Camp Taji, where their mission is to train Iraqi security forces.

The Iraq charges include a 2016 incident where an NZDF member was convicted of recklessly driving a "mission critical protective vehicle".

Charge reports obtained by 1 NEWS show the offender was fined $2000 and made to write a letter of apology for reputational damage.

Last year, another serviceman in Taji was put in military prison for two weeks after being found guilty of recklessly firing a weapon.

FINES AND COMPENSATION

Overseas and at home, the NZDF imposed fines of about $665,000 during the five-year period, on average about $2500 per week, while compensation and reparation payments of almost $75,000 were also made by personnel, averaging about $280 per week.

New Zealand military personnel also faced a variety of charges over incidents in other countries, including Antarctica, Australia, the USA, Niue, England, Canada, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga and Singapore.

Not all the charges in the documents led to convictions and many relate to military discipline matters, but they are interspersed with many hundreds of crimes which also break civil laws.

Dr Paul Buchanan says any lack of discipline should be of great concern to the NZDF top brass. Source: 1 NEWS

'NZDF REPRESENTS NEW ZEALAND'

Former US intelligence and defence policy analyst Dr Paul Buchanan said it is not a good look for our military to be committing offences overseas.

"You have to remember, the NZDF represents New Zealand, not only in front of the Iraqis - the locals - but in front of the coalition partners," Dr Buchanan said.

"You have to have the utmost confidence of your allies, as well as the partner militaries you're helping to train.”

Chief of Defence Force Air Marshal Short said of the number of charges against NZDF members involved in the Iraq mission: "It's higher than I thought it would be.

"Anything where our people aren't behaving as we expect can be not only damaging to the individual, but to us in the military, and our reputation with our friends and allies, so those sorts of things we do take very seriously."

Minister Ron Mark said that in terms of the overall number of charges over the past five years, it could seem high to those outside the NZDF because "people get charged in the military for things they may not get charged for [outside] ".

He said there are considerable stresses and strains placed on soldiers and added: "I know from my personal deployments - I spent six years in the Middle East - there are times when it hurts more.”

Mr Mark said Kiwi soldiers are largely respected by overseas military officers and that we are among the most disciplined in the world.

"We have a very proud reputation to live up to, and I think you'll find that in some cases discipline is handed out very quickly because we have a high standard to live up to that was laid down by our forebears."

He said the number of charges "was not being discussed" in regards to whether New Zealand will extend its mission in Iraq.

OVERSEAS INCIDENTS

In Antarctica, an NZDF member was confined to base for more than two weeks and ordered to pay $500 in compensation after damaging the historic Observation Hill Cross in 2015.

The nine-foot wooden cross was erected in 1913 to commemorate the deaths of British explorer Robert Falcon Scott and his party the year before.

In July of 2015, nine NZDF personnel stationed at Camp Mirage in Dubai were charged after being found with alcohol at Al Minhad Airbase - they received fines of up to $2300 each.

In Australia, an NZDF member was caught with class B drugs at Cairns International Airport in 2015 and was fined about $1300 - they paid in cash.

- Additional reporting by Simon Plumb, Katie Bradford and Andrew Macfarlane

The Chief of the Defence Force admits the number of charges is "high". Source: 1 NEWS