Jared Savage

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

Under false pretences

Salam Mansoor Abdelabbus Al-Bawi. Photo / Supplied
Salam Mansoor Abdelabbus Al-Bawi. Photo / Supplied

Refugee Salam Mansoor Abdelabbus Al-Bawi, aka John Joseph, lied to New Zealand authorities, covered up his shady past, was arrested here twice and then used the justice and beneficiary system to his best advantage. The Weekend Herald investigates the 12-year tale of his master manipulation. Special report by Jared Savage, Investigations Editor

From the moment he set foot in New Zealand, the man who called himself John Joseph started manipulating the system.

He fled here in 2000 after suffering persecution at the hands of the Saddam Hussein regime because of his Kurdish heritage, telling authorities that he was accused of being involved in the terrorist killing of an Iraqi security official and was tortured until he admitted the crime. Sentenced to death, Joseph escaped only after his father bribed the prison guards, then made his way to New Zealand, using a Danish passport.

He then successfully applied for refugee status, New Zealand residency, citizenship and a passport. Life was good and by this time Joseph was an instructor in the driving school he owned in Auckland.

But by December 2003, John Joseph would again find himself behind bars. He was arrested and charged with raping a 19-year-old girl who worked for him. Joseph denied any crime and said the sex was consensual. The charge was later dropped as the complainant decided to not give evidence at the trial.

The detectives investigating the case took his fingerprints but there was no need to look further into Joseph's background at the time.

"I remember the police officer in charge of my case saying to me that they didn't think it was even his real name. So it wasn't a huge surprise to [learn his true identity]. I'm just very surprised that it took so long after my case to come out," the woman told the Weekend Herald.

Those fingerprints later proved to be crucial in discovering who he really was.

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

The Special Investigations Group (SIG) took an interest in the Iraqi and sent his fingerprints to Denmark, which established his true identity as Salam Mansoor Abdelabbus Al-Bawi. He also had a different birth date.

Al-Bawi, travelling on his New Zealand passport as John Joseph, had also travelled back to Iraq.

Police also alleged Al-Bawi had previously received $200,000 from a person in Lebanon and had made two other trips overseas that year as John Joseph.

The documents show Al-Bawi's defence lawyer said the money was loaned by family members and was "nothing sinister".

His Remuera home was searched in February 2006 and the police found the Danish passport under the Joseph identity.

The SIG inquiries also uncovered the fact that Al-Bawi, before claiming refugee status here as Joseph in 2001, had already received asylum and residency in Denmark - as well as a violence conviction, which he had not declared on arrival.

It emerged that Al-Bawi had fled from Iraq on a previous occasion, in 1995, this time to Denmark, before coming to New Zealand. After successfully applying for refugee status in the Scandinavian country, Al-Bawi was was convicted in 1998 of "loss of liberty with distress" when a man was forced to sign a notice of debt after being abducted in a car and taken to a deserted industrial area. He signed the debt notice after Al-Bawi threatened to kill him and was "subjected to kicks and blows".

Al-Bawi was sentenced to four months in prison and spent a month in custody before he was released.

But for some reason, Al-Bawi left Denmark and returned to Iraq - where he was arrested to be executed - before again escaping and coming to New Zealand in 2000.

After discovering his true identity - 18 months after the rape charge - the police laid a number of various immigration fraud charges against him in February 2006. By this time, Al-Bawi was running his driving instructor business and had a son with a woman he met here. The indictably laid charges are considered serious breaches of the Crimes Act, the Citizenship Act and the Passports Act after Al-Bawi failed to disclose his original name and date of birth and his previous criminal conviction in Denmark.

He later pleaded guilty in the Auckland District Court and Judge Christopher Field sentenced him to six months' home detention in March 2008. He said the type of offending had "severe consequences for the integrity and reputation of New Zealand's international border security."

While standing in the dock, Al-Bawi then made the curious claim that he did "favours" for the CIA and New Zealand security authorities.

He later claimed to have met with police officers secretly at One Tree Hill in Auckland.

Within two weeks of being convicted for lying to gain refugee status, residency, citizenship and a passport, Al-Bawi signed a Companies Office form to become a director under the name John Joseph. The application form stipulates that someone cannot become a director if they have been convicted of a dishonesty crime in the last five years.

The Herald revealed that Al-Bawi had opened the Fishmonger fish and chip shop in Birkenhead, on Auckland's North Shore, after buying a franchise from a company owned by former Kiwis rugby league captain Richie Barnett.

At the time, Barnett said he was "blown away" by the revelation of the dual identity.

"He's a hard worker, the bloke. When this came up, we just went 'holy jeez - what's going on here?'

"He's enthusiastic, a damn hard worker and everything he's said has been spot-on. We couldn't believe it."

In explanation, Al-Bawi said he had signed the documentation without reading it properly. He later admitted guilty to two breaches of the Companies Act in September 2010 and was fined $2000.

But a staff member who worked for Al-Bawi at the Fishmonger store told the Weekend Herald she believed he was not so honest with customers.

"He was a very strange man [who] I did not feel safe around. He was also very dodgy around business and always trying to cheat customers in small ways," said the woman, who asked to be anonymous.

She said the Fishmonger was supposed to be a fresh fish and chip shop, "sort of upper class", but Al-Bawi purchased cheap supplies and upped prices.

"Every week it would be smaller amounts of servings, [he would] get us to give people gurnard instead of snapper, when paying for snapper. That sort of thing, nothing big."

Around the time of the Companies Office convictions, Al-Bawi unsuccessfully tried to overturn his immigration convictions in the Court of Appeal.

Al-Bawi claimed his lawyer at the time, David Ryken, failed to tell him the implications if he pleaded guilty. He claimed he believed if he pleaded guilty he would be discharged without conviction and receive diversion. Al-Bawi hired leading QC Paul Davison to appeal the convictions, but he later withdrew as there were no grounds to do so. Mr Ryken, an immigration and refugee law specialist, rejected Al-Bawi's claims. So did the three Court of Appeal judges.

"Mr Al-Bawi's evidence, on the other hand, was often contradictory and at times completely untrue... instead of being grateful for the excellent legal representation he received, now complains he was misled. We do not accept for one minute that he was misled."

Justice Robert Chambers, on behalf of the Court of Appeal, went on to say: "We have seen him under cross-examination - a much gentler and contracted cross-examination than he probably would have faced at trial. No reasonable jury is likely to have accepted the argument that he honestly believed he was justified in his actions by reason of fears for his family back in Iraq."

After the knockback on his convictions, the Refugee Status Appeal Authority determined Al-Bawi should never have been granted refugee status because he failed to disclose he had "already enjoyed" residency status in Denmark. The lack of disclosure was labelled "deceit" and an appeal to the High Court failed.

Then in May last year, the then Minister for Internal Affairs Nathan Guy made an order to revoke Al-Bawi's citizenship and passport as authorities were unaware of his criminal offending in Denmark as well as his false refugee, residency and citizenship applications. This amounted to "fraudulent conduct" said the Minister, allowing Al-Bawi to fulfil the citizenship requirement of good character.

Again, Al-Bawi appealed the High Court in Auckland where Justice Graham Lang considered the merits of his case.

Lawyers for Al-Bawi said he did not refer to his original name and true date of birth because he feared those details might alert Iraqi authorities to his presence in New Zealand.

"I find that to be an unconvincing explanation, particularly given the fact he had been living in New Zealand for more than three years by the time he applied for citizenship," Justice Lang said.

"Mr Joseph knew the importance of the information that the form requested. The details that he failed to provide effectively meant that the New Zealand authorities had no means of checking whether he was a person of good character."

He dismissed the appeal in February and said the Minister 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."

While not all his legal battles to stay here have been funded by the taxpayer, the Weekend Herald can reveal that Al-Bawi has received nearly $24,000 in legal aid. More than $10,600 was to keep his refugee status and another $13,213 to fight his criminal cases. Of the $13,213, nearly $8900 was to fund his fruitless bid to overturn his immigration convictions in the Court of Appeal.

Al-Bawi was in Germany at the time of the High Court ruling and no longer has a New Zealand passport. He has been refused entry to the country, despite having a young son here with his former partner.

The ruling means Al-Bawi is now stateless.

A spokesman for the Immigration Service said Al-Bawi does not hold a valid visa allowing him to travel to New Zealand.

However, the story does not end there. The Weekend Herald then revealed that Al-Bawi kept receiving a weekly sickness benefit of $360 despite his citizenship being revoked in February.

In fact, Work and Income New Zealand was not even aware of the situation until contacted by the paper last week. The department promptly cancelled the payments. He was paid a total of $2500 over seven weeks, which Winz head Janet Grossman said would be pursued if Al-Bawi ever returned to the country. "This isn't good enough. We are continuing to look into this matter with the Department of Internal Affairs and Immigration New Zealand."

The reassurance was not enough for Winston Peters, who called for heads to roll. He has said Government departments had been tasked with sharing critical information for some time and it was time for accountability at the top. Further inquiries can also reveal that Al-Bawi is a 99 per cent shareholder in an import and export business for car parts in Auckland. The company, Partners Part Import and Export Ltd, was incorporated in October 2009 and struck off in July 2011 - but re-registered on February 13 this year. This is around the time that he left New Zealand. Whether he ever returns to the country is dependent on his success in applying for a visa.

"He is a master manipulator," said one source. "I have no doubt he will be back in New Zealand, if not under another identity."

The history
* Sickness benefit: $360 a week, overpaid $2500 after his citizenship revoked
* Legal aid: $23,829.35 to fight his criminal and refugee court battles
* Born: Salam Mansoor Abdelabbas Al-Bawi on October 21, 1975.
* Citizenship 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.
* 2010: Refugee status revoked.
* 2012: Citizenship and passport revoked.

Do you have any information that should be made public?
Contact the Herald's investigations editor at jared.savage@nzherald.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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