Karel Sroubek case not over yet

The Immigration Minister has issued a new deportation notice for gangster drug smuggler Karel Sroubek, but the nightmare case is far from over, writes Laura Walters.

On Wednesday, Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway issued a new deportation liability notice, which overrides his previous decision to grant residency to Czech Republic national Karel Sroubek.

But Sroubek’s lawyer Paul Wicks QC said his client planned to appeal the decision, meaning the case could drag on for years.

Sroubek was convicted of drug smuggling and sentenced to five years and nine months in prison. He is due to be released in 2022. The minister’s original decision would have seen the kickboxer remain in New Zealand after being granted a residency visa under his real name – rather than the fake name he used to enter the country.

The new decision means he will be deported by Immigration New Zealand (INZ) upon the completion of his sentence, or once granted parole – unless he is successful in an appeal to the Immigration Protection Tribunal on humanitarian or factual grounds.

The new deportation liability comes under a different section of the complex Immigration Act, by which the minister decided Sroubek never met the minimum statutory bar he needed in order to enter New Zealand in the first place.

Lees-Galloway said when he made his initial decision, he was not aware of the Interpol information which detailed Sroubek’s convictions in the Czech Republic, the fact he had exhausted his rights of appeal, and that he was present in court when found guilty.

Meanwhile, the minister has launched an investigation into the process INZ follows when preparing files in discretionary cases, after what has been a messy case, exacerbated by gaps in the system.

Lees-Galloway will also alter his own consideration process after facing intense scrutiny for making a decision on the case in less than an hour, despite describing it as “complex” and one of most difficult cases he’s dealt with as a minister.

The minister said he read the 12-page summary provided by INZ and what officials identified as relevant sections of the 398-page appendices, but he did not read the entire file.

Minister cops criticism

The Opposition and the wider public have been critical of Lees-Galloway’s original decision – Sroubek is a man who came to New Zealand under a fake name, using fake documents, and who was convicted for smuggling MDMA into the country. He also had known gang affiliations in his home country.

But Lees-Galloway decided Sroubek had a reasonable fear for his life should he return to the Czech Republic, and he was a low risk to the community upon his release from prison in New Zealand, and thus decided to cancel the deportation liability and issue a visa.

The minister said he relied on the information given to him by officials, and placed weight on the supporting testimony of Sroubek’s former wife, and the judge who considered the case.

"I considered the likelihood that [Sroubek’s] claims were misleading or at least embellished, despite the considerable supporting material provided,” he said.

His mother had since confirmed Sroubek had travelled to the Czech Republic since arriving in New Zealand, calling into question claims that he feared for his life in his homeland.

The blame game

The Sroubek case has been a thorn in the minister’s side since he made the decision in September.

It’s clear he did not have all the relevant information in front of him, but has deferred blame by saying he could only deal with the information provided.

The saga has been painfully strung out, with new pieces of information drip fed to the public via the National Party and the media.

Once it became clear the decision to grant residency may not have been the correct decision, Lees-Galloway launched an INZ investigation.

This led to a string of questions in the House and from media, which the minister refused to answer. And while Lees-Galloway followed legal advice to keep his mouth shut, the Opposition had free rein to question the minister’s handling of the case and use parliamentary privilege to release information or implications about the case.

National leader Simon Bridges said Lees-Galloway should take responsibility for the whole saga and offer his resignation – something the minister said he did not do or consider. He did, however, apologise to the prime minister and commit to fixing the process.

Bridges said the failures in this case lay at the minister’s feet, and he should not throw his officials, or the process, under the bus.

While Lees-Galloway said he was not blaming officials, he worked hard during Wednesday’s press conference to defer blame.

“I am concerned that the case file prepared by Immigration New Zealand may not have provided a complete picture. More information on Mr Sroubek’s travel history and criminal past would have assisted my decision making,” he said.

He then went on to say “the responsibility for the decision is mine”, but couched that with a comment that he was following a process established by his predecessors.

Lees-Galloway announced his decision to deport Sroubek alongside the head of Immigration New Zealand, Greg Patchell, in the minister’s Beehive office, in what seemed to be a move to again acknowledge INZ’s part in the debacle.

Process review

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment chief executive Carolyn Tremain said the review of the INZ process of preparing files for decision-makers would be reviewed and Mike Heron QC was expected to report back with findings and recommendations in March.

The review would look at a representative sample of case files decided by the Immigration Minister and designated decision-makers between November 2016 and November 2018. It would assess case file preparation guidelines and practices, and make any recommendations to further strengthen case file preparation, she said.

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