Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Foreigners suspected in crime plot

Photo / Richard Robinson
Photo / Richard Robinson

A group of Romanians have been prevented from entering New Zealand amid suspicions they were planning a crime spree down Auckland's Queen St.

Suspicions were raised when two members of the seven-strong group - a husband and wife - were flagged as they waited to board a plane in Turkey for the second leg of their journey.

Immigration New Zealand was alerted after it emerged the couple were part of a group of nine Romanians denied entry in 2009 after being unable to satisfy officials they were travelling for legitimate reasons.

The couple were flying from Romania to Auckland via Istanbul and Singapore, Immigration NZ border operations manager Karen Urwin said.

A "diligent" Immigration officer established five other Romanians on the same flight bought their tickets from the same travel agent on the same day.

Further digging revealed several members of the group had previously been deported from the United States where they were involved in thefts involving tens of thousands of dollars.

"What they did was get a large group of people to swarm into a store," Ms Urwin said. "Half the group would go and distract the staff and obscure the cameras while the other half would sneak into the back of the store and clear out the safe and till.

"It's an oldie but a goodie. In one instance they cleared out US$25,00 (NZ$31,400) from a liquor store."

According to local news reports of the group's court appearance in Annapolis, Maryland they struck at least four times, twice stealing more than US$13,000 (NZ$16,400). Some of the group were charged with further offences.

Ms Urwin said the group claimed to be planning to stay in Auckland for five days because it was "a beautiful time of year to visit New Zealand".

"I think it's highly unlikely that they were coming to look at the scenery, as they tried to tell us. I think it's more likely they were planning on a spree down Queen St," Ms Urwin said.

"They're probably the only people I've ever heard of who actually go on holiday and make money."

Ms Urwin said the group were part of a growing number of organised criminals travelling abroad to commit crimes.

"I think as the airlines open up more and international travel becomes more affordable the world's a much smaller place so you do get these sorts of people accessing your country. Whereas 10 years ago it would have been very difficult to get from Romania to New Zealand now it's not difficult at all."

Immigration figures released to APNZ show that in the 2011/2012 year 1826 travellers were refused entry to New Zealand, up from 1465 the year before.

- NZ Herald

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