Jared Savage is the New Zealand Herald's investigations editor.

Data-match loophole let fraudster get benefit

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

An immigration fraudster would have received a $360-a-week sickness benefit despite being stripped of his New Zealand citizenship unless authorities were alerted to an "exceptionally small anomaly" in data-matching records.

The benefit for Salam Mansoor Abdelabbas Al-Bawi was stopped only after the Weekend Herald contacted Work and Income, which was unaware he was no longer a citizen.

Al-Bawi lost a High Court appeal in February against a ministerial decision to revoke his citizenship because it was obtained by "fraudulent conduct". He was overpaid $2500 in benefits. He is unable to return to New Zealand because he was overseas at the time of the court decision.

The Ministry of Social Development runs data-matching programmes with six other government departments, checking millions of records each year.

But Al-Bawi's benefit would have continued because the ministry does not match records with the Department of Internal Affairs or the Immigration Service for people whose right to live in New Zealand is revoked.

Ministry deputy chief executive Mike Smith said the agencies were "now taking steps to share information that will close this anomaly".

"While these cases are extremely rare, it is important agencies share information where people are no longer entitled to benefits because their residency status has changed."

Internal Affairs revoked two citizenships a year on average, and not all would be getting a benefit, he said.

Associate Social Development Minister Chester Borrows said he was satisfied the departments were "moving at speed" to close the loophole.

Al-Bawi, who came to New Zealand in 2000, received nearly $24,000 in legal aid for a series of court cases, including to keep his refugee status and to fight criminal cases, including his bid in the Court of Appeal to overturn his immigration convictions.

He no longer has a New Zealand passport and has been refused re-entry, despite having a young son here with his former partner. The ruling means he is stateless.

Further inquiries reveal he remains a 99 per cent shareholder in an Auckland car parts import-export business.

- NZ Herald

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