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Review sparked by Czech drug smuggler saga finds Immigration Minister should be able to ask for advice in complex cases

A review sparked from the saga surrounding Czech drug smuggler Karel Sroubek has found "an unnecessary level of risk" is placed on Immigration NZ (INZ) and the Immigration Minister over deportation liability decisions.

A composite image of Iain Lees-Galloway and Karel Sroubek Source: 1 NEWS

The review also found Government ministers should be able to ask for advice for complex cases and more power should be given to INZ. 

The report by QC Mike Heron was commissioned after the high-profile flip-flopping of whether Sroubek was liable for deportation after serving his sentence for importing MDMA. He was denied parole last month.

The report found that current process "leaves INZ and the Minister exposed to an unnecessary level of risk". 

"Upon further investigation of Sroubek’s case and the confirmation of the convictions in the Czech Republic, the Minister found Sroubek liable for deportation on the basis that he was an excluded person and was granted residence as a result of administrative error," the report read. 

The report made recommendations, that included the minister should request and receive advice from INZ for cases with factual or legal complexities. 

It also found Sroubek's case file summary did not contain information about statements about returning to the Czech Republic.

"It would have been optimal for such information to have been available to the Minister when he was considering the case (specifically if the Minister had indicated that the fear of returning to the Czech Republic was a relevant consideration)."

"The case file summary omitted that he was an excluded person and was granted a visa as a result of administrative error."

In 2014, Sroubek was initially found to be liable for deportation by INZ after being convicted of importing 4.9kg of MDMA into the country. 

The decision of deportation liability then went to Immigration Minister Iain-Lees Galloway last year. 

"As was usual, no recommendation or advice was given to the Minister," the report read. 

"Following a meeting with officials, the Minister cancelled Sroubek's deportation liability on 19 September, 2018."

It said that following this decision there was "intense scrutiny" from media.

Media highlighted that "despite Sroubek's professed fear of returning to the Czech Republic, Sroubek had informed NZ Customs and the NZ High Court (prior to the discovery of his true identity) that he had in fact returned to the Czech Republic and he intended to do so again". 

On November 28, 2018, Sroubek was found to be liable for deportation after a review by Immigration NZ. Mr Lees-Galloway announced the findings, saying there was some information INZ compiled that was not available to him when he made his original decision.

Today, National's Mark Mitchell said "the system works but Iain Lees-Galloway stuffed up". 

"This report cost taxpayers $155,000 - more than most New Zealanders earn a year - to tell us what we already knew. What we still don’t have is a clear explanation from Iain Lees-Galloway about why he made this decision."

MBIE chief executive Carolyn Tremain said the findings showed it was timely to review whether their current process was still fit for purpose. MBIE would now look into implementing the recommendations from the review, that include the Minister being able to request advice, creating a simplified two-stage process for minor criminal cases, and giving INZ a function to check the veracity of information given to them. 

Background

Immigration New Zealand launched an investigation on November 1, 2018, into the residency application of Sroubek.

Mr Lees-Galloway told media at the time he received new information that contradicted that which he used to make his initial decision to grant residency to Sroubek.

On November 28, 2018, Sroubek was found to be liable for deportation after a review by Immigration NZ.

Mr Lees-Galloway announced the findings of the investigation, saying "as a result of that review, Immigration determined that Mr Sroubek may be liable for deportation on grounds that I had not previously considered".