Jared Savage

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

Banned from NZ but still on welfare

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Salam Al-Bawi did not declare he had a criminal record when he arrived in New Zealand. Photo / Greg Bowker
Salam Al-Bawi did not declare he had a criminal record when he arrived in New Zealand. Photo / Greg Bowker

An illegal immigrant who was stripped of his citizenship and banned from New Zealand has been receiving a $360-a-week sickness benefit while living overseas.

Salam Mansoor Abdelabbas Al-Bawi was sentenced to six months' home detention in 2008 after he admitted lying to New Zealand authorities in order to gain refugee status, residency, citizenship, and a passport under the name John Jacob Abrahim Joseph. He was later convicted of Companies Office charges after running a fish and chip shop as John Joseph.

In February, the former Iraqi lost an appeal to the High Court at Auckland against a ministerial decision to revoke his citizenship and passport.

He was in Germany at the time and has been refused re-entry, despite having a young son here.

The Weekend Herald can now reveal Al-Bawi continued to receive a benefit of $360 a week, under the name of John Joseph, despite the ruling.

Janet Grossman, head of Work and Income, said his benefit was stopped on Thursday after Weekend Herald inquiries.

"Work and Income only recently learned that his citizenship has been revoked. We are looking into this matter further with the Department of Internal Affairs.

"We also know there are questions around this person's legal right to live here. We are working with Immigration New Zealand around his residency status and the impact this would have on benefit entitlement."

Work and Income would not say over what period the benefit had been paid, nor how much in total had been paid out, but Ms Grossman said the overpayment would be pursued should Al-Bawi return to New Zealand.

Al-Bawi came to New Zealand in 2000 and was granted refugee status under the Joseph name, despite having residency in Denmark.

Court documents show he came to the attention of police here in May 2005 after a US$76,000 withdrawal he made from a Parnell bank was reported as a suspicious transaction.

Detectives from the Special Investigations Group (SIG) sent his fingerprints to Denmark and discovered that Joseph's original name was Al-Bawi and he had a violence conviction he had not declared on arrival here.

It was for "loss of liberty with distress" when a man signed a notice of debt after being taken in a car and "subjected to kicks and blows".

NZ police also alleged Al-Bawi had previously received $200,000 from a person in Lebanon whom he would not name. He had made two other trips overseas in 2005 as John Joseph and police allege he spent up to $11,500 a month on toll calls.

The documents show Al-Bawi's defence lawyer said the $200,000 was lent by family members and was "nothing sinister".

In February 2006, the SIG searched Al-Bawi's Remuera home and found a Danish passport under the name Joseph. Al-Bawi later pleaded guilty to four immigration fraud charges and was sentenced in March 2008 to six months' home detention.

Judge Christopher Field said the type of offending had severe consequences for the integrity and reputation of NZ's international border security.

Al-Bawi was later unsuccessful in overturning his conviction in the Court of Appeal in 2010.

He was also convicted of Companies Office charges in September 2010 after opening the chip shop in Birkenhead two weeks after he was sentenced on the immigration fraud.

On the advice of officials, the Internal Affairs Minister at the time, Nathan Guy, made an order to revoke Al-Bawi's citizenship and passport, which he appealed against to the High Court on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

In February, Justice Graham Lang dismissed the appeal and said Mr Guy had ample grounds to revoke citizenship. "The manner in which Mr Joseph procured his citizenship counts significantly against him, as does the conduct that led to his convictions in both New Zealand and Denmark."

The judge described Al-Bawi's Danish conviction as the equivalent of kidnapping. The ruling means Al-Bawi is now stateless.

Salam Al-Bawi: At a glance

Born: Salam Mansoor Abdelabbas Al-Bawi on October 21, 1975.
Known as: John Jacob Abrahim Joseph on April 19, 1980.
2000: Arrived in New Zealand under the Joseph identity.
2001: Granted refugee status and residency.
2003: Granted citizenship and NZ passport.
2006: Police discovered his original name and true birth date and laid charges.
2008: Sentenced to home detention after pleading guilty.
2010: Convicted of Companies Office charges and fined $2000.
2011: Refugee status revoked.
2012: Citizenship and passport revoked.

- NZ Herald

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