9 Jan 2015

Top NZ surgeon released after arrest

11:18 am on 9 January 2015

A top New Zealand-based heart surgeon has been arrested and released at Singapore's border in a case of mistaken identity.

Adam El-Gamel

Adam El-Gamel Photo: Supplied

Waikato Hospital's clinical director of cardiothoracic surgery Adam El-Gamel was arrested at the airport yesterday.

It capped off a series of unfortunate events and he and his wife were now waiting for his passport to be returned so they could return home to Hamilton.

Mr El-Gamel, who is considered a pioneering surgeon and one of the world's best, was on his way to India to teach a new surgical technique.

But the couple were stopped from entering because of rule changes there for British passport holders.

When he and his wife, Valerie, returned to their last stop in Singapore their bags went missing, and then he was arrested.

Speaking from Singapore, Mrs El-Gamel said officials suspected her husband of having multiple passports and of belonging to a crime ring.

She said the first hint of trouble came when questions were raised about his passport.

He was escorted away and he had to phone her to tell her he had been arrested.

"They released him because there's nothing to charge him for, because of course he doesn't hold multiple passports and he's not part of a criminal gang.

"But I believe Singapore is on high alert for terrorism at the moment and that he wasn't the only one to be managed in this way yesterday, there were other men," she said.

Mrs El-Gamel said she struggled to get help. She was trying to find a lawyer when Mr El-Gamel was released.

She said she could not say whether her husband, who was originally from Egypt, was targeted because of his appearance.

"I really don't know. I just think we're living in difficult times, everybody is on high alert and these people are trying to do a job.

"They have a job to do to protect their country and they have done their job. I think my difficulty is the lack of support, really."

She said she had to constantly contact the British High Commission, and the police station never answered her calls.

She said her husband was exhausted after the ordeal but the pair held no hard feelings against anyone.

They hoped they could return to New Zealand tomorrow.

Leading surgeon

Adam El-Gamel started working at Waikato Hospital in 2010 and he and his wife are New Zealand residents.

He graduated from Ain Shams University in Cairo, and in 1998 became a consultant and senior lecturer in cardiothoracic surgery at King's College Hospital in London.

Waikato Hospital said he was a highly respected and valued surgeon who has made a big difference to a lot of patients over his five years.