15 Oct 2019

Residency case 'Sroubek 2.0', National claims

6:50 pm on 15 October 2019

The National Party is accusing the Immigration Minister of a "Sroubek 2.0" after revelations he granted residence to a man with multiple drink-driving convictions.

But the move could backfire on the Opposition with the government claiming National twice granted the same man temporary work visas during its time in power.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway and National Party leader Simon Bridges.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway and National Party leader Simon Bridges. Photo: RNZ/Dom Thomas

Iain Lees-Galloway came under intense criticism for his decision to grant Czech drug-smuggler Karel Sroubek residence last year, which he later reversed.

Under questioning from media this morning, Mr Lees-Galloway confirmed a second case where he allowed a person with criminal convictions to remain in the country.

The man has six convictions in New Zealand for driving with excess breath alcohol and two for driving without a licence.

Mr Lees-Galloway said he was deemed to be a "protected person" under international law and so could not be deported or publicly identified.

After reading the full file, he was convinced this person would be at risk of torture if returned to his home country.

"[I'm] sufficiently sure to believe that deporting them would have been a breach of the International Convention against Torture," he said.

"[And] so was the National Party when it was in government."

In a further written statement, Mr Lees-Galloway said the National government had granted the man a three-year temporary visa in 2013 "noting that subsequent temporary work visas would be approved as required".

Immigration New Zealand granted the man another temporary work visa in 2016.

"That is essentially the same as residency with extra bureaucracy," Mr Lees-Galloway said in the statement.

But the Opposition has come out swinging, saying the decision doesn't stack up.

But neither National leader Simon Bridges nor immigration spokesperson Mark Mitchell appeared to be aware of National's own involvement.

"I'd want to know those facts," Mr Bridges said. "I wasn't leader of the National Party then."

Asked whether National had ever had any involvement in the case, Mr Mitchell said: "from my knowledge, no".

Mr Mitchell acknowledged Mr Lees-Galloway did not have control over whether the man was deemed a "protected person".

But he said the minister did not have to grant the man a work visa and residence.

"We would leave him in limbo... he's not going to get the rights afforded to other Kiwis."

Mr Mitchell said New Zealanders no longer trusted the minister's decisions.

"He's got a poor track record, so he needs to be transparent and we need to clearly understand exactly why he's made this decision," Mr Mitchell said.

Mr Bridges said the man did not deserve residence and the benefits that came with it.

"He's probably been to prison ... he has drunk driven not once, not three times, not five times, but six times on New Zealand roads."

The minister had "absolute discretion", he said, and chose to give the man the "keys to the kingdom".

"You want to go on a benefit, you feel free to, you want to vote in our elections, you feel free to - it's not good enough."

RNZ understands the man was granted Protected Persons status in 2012, and has not had a conviction since then.

National MP and former minister Michael Woodhouse said he had no recollection of this case, when a temporary work visa was granted in 2013.

"It suggests to me it didn't have the elements of the conditions that were before the current minister, and that's not surprising, in the six years since I was asked to consider the case it's very likely that there were other things that have occurred - so it's difficult for me to comment.

"But it certainly wasn't a remarkable case at that point," he said.

He had a "pretty good memory" for those sorts of cases, said Mr Woodhouse.

"And certainly someone with six driving offences and Protected Persons status would certainly prompt a recollection and I have no recollection of this from six years ago."

In 2017 a Zimbabwean man calling himself William Nduku left New Zealand after Mr Woodhouse declined to give him a work visa.

As a self-proclaimed former member of the Mugabe secret police, and having publicly admitted to murder, rape and torture, he was given the status of a Protected Person.

National's Mark Mitchell said he was concerned the man in this recent case could have a similar background.

"Number one we don't know his identity, we don't know where he's from, but we know we have a history of people coming to this country, lying to us about the circumstances they've come here for and they get awarded residencies."

Under the law there is a prohibition on anyone making comment about the details of the man's case or circumstances.

Mr Lees Galloway told reporters his hands were tied when it came to making any substantive comment, including questions about the possibility of the man being a terrorist or a war criminal.

The Sroubek case caused the minister, and the coalition government, a huge amount of mess when the story broke last year, with the review of how it happened released just last week.

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