Tyson promoter to fight for new visa

By Hayden Donnell, Hana Garrett-Walker

Mike Tyson. Photo / AP
Mike Tyson. Photo / AP

The promoter of Mike Tyson's visit to New Zealand says he does not accept the revocation of the former boxer's visa and there are probably worse people than Tyson walking our streets.

Tyson's visa was revoked today by Associate Immigration Minister Kate Wilkinson who said the original decision to grant a special direction to Tyson, a convicted rapist, was a finely balanced call.

A letter of support from the Life Education Trust, which would have been a beneficiary of the visit, had been a significant factor in approving the application.

However, it has been revealed that the letter was written by a Life Education Trust volunteer with no authority.

Event promoter Max Markson said he did not accept the decision and would try to get another visa issued for Tyson.

"It would be a tragedy if Mike Tyson could not come to New Zealand to do his show. We'll see if we can get a visa issued again. They've issued it once, hopefully it might be issued again,'' he told APNZ.

Tickets for the event, which could cost up to $395 for a platinum ticket to the show, were still being sold.

Markson would not say financially how much he stood to lose if Tyson could not get into the country. "I never think of it in terms of that,'' he said.

"I've managed to successfully bring to New Zealand in the past 10 years President Clinton twice, the former Mayor of New York, Tony Blair, and I'm hopeful we'll be able to bring [Tyson].''

When it was pointed out that the other men did not criminal convictions, Markson said: "That was 20 years ago and he has done his time, he's a reformed character''.

"He's a vegan, he's sober, he's a great role model about how man can turn his life around and I'm sure there's worse people walking the streets in New Zealand today than Mike Tyson will be in the 20 hours he is here, hopefully, with his wife, his children.''

Tyson was due to arrive on November 15 for his one-man show at Auckland's Vector Arena.

He was granted a visa despite serving three years of a six-year sentence for raping an 18-year-old woman in 1992. New Zealand bans anyone who has served sentences of five years or more.

Ms Wilkinson told One News that she did not take steps to confirm the letter's authenticity because she had every reason to believe it was genuine.

"I think I was entitled to rely on it, I don't get an audit trail every time I receive a letter,'' she said.

"It was on letterhead, it was signed by a board member of the trust, I had no reason to doubt it.''

But Labour's Immigration spokeswoman Darien Fenton said the debacle was "sloppy and embarrassing'' for the Government and for New Zealand's international reputation.

"The issue of whether Mike Tyson should be granted a visa has been in the media for weeks, yet obviously there was no communication with between John Key and his minister until it became public,'' she said.

However, Prime Minister John Key said revoking Tyson's visa was the right thing to do.

Mr Key, who has previously expressed his displeasure at Tyson's planned visit, said he had not pressured Ms Wilkinson to reverse her decision.

"I think she's made the right decision on the basis of the fact that the Life Education Trust has withdrawn their support.''

He said the initial decision to grant the visa had been based on the short time Tyson was going to be in the country; the 20 years that had passed since he was convicted of rape, and the trust's letter of support.

"I find the concept of rape abhorrent - it's wrong and I think we need to take that very, very seriously - but I accept the view that we take these things on a case by case basis and it was a long time ago.

"I think she [Ms Wilkinson] took the view - and it was a very finely balanced call - that if he was going to talk to people he might be able to use his life story to change behaviour in any people who might be wanting to turn their lives around. But the reality is that the Life Education Trust came to us, had a change of heart and withdrew their support, so she really had no option but to withdraw the nomination.''

Trust: 'We never backed the application'

Life Education Trust chief executive John O'Connell confirmed today that the organisation never backed Tyson's visa application and the letter of support was sent by an unauthorised volunteer.

He said the event promoters had attempted to go through the "back door" by putting the volunteer's letter forward in support of the visa application.

"We conveyed to the promoters that we didn't want to be involved and then they took a punt on us being involved through the back door so to speak.

"I think at the end of the day he's probably going to be worse off for this: To get a no from an organisation and then to pursue the event going through under that organisation. You take that risk. You pay the consequences."

Day of the Champions promoters approached the Trust in mid-August, asking it to support Tyson's visa bid in return for a share of their profits, Mr O'Connell said.

That offer was declined on August 24, with Tyson's rape conviction a "major factor" in the decision, Mr O'Connell said.

"Subsequently we had a volunteer trustee support the application. They pointed out that we're a charity and we had the potential to fund our initiatives through this visit...

"The first thing we have to do is ensure the public know we don't support this event."

Mr O'Connell said he immediately called Immigration New Zealand after learning about the letter yesterday.

The Trust was launching an internal investigation to find out whether the volunteer knew about the earlier decision before sending a letter of support for Tyson's application.

"We need to work through just how much they did know and how much they didn't."

PM also weighed in on the decision

The decision to revoke the visa comes days after Prime Minister John Key said he was opposed to Tyson entering New Zealand.

He told TVNZ's Breakfast he did not know how Immigration New Zealand made its decision and he didn't approve of "sanctioned behaviour in that regard".

He said he would have never approved a visa being granted to someone who had a serious conviction such as violence against a woman.

"I can see it from both sides, maybe it was a long time ago, but in my view they are very, very serious issues," he said.

Rape Prevention Education director Kim McGregor earlier said Tyson did not deserve to be granted an exemption to immigration rules.

"There are so many victims and survivors of sexual violence in this country and I imagine that they would be unhappy if the rules are changed for this person just because he has a high profile."

Tyson before today's announcement: 'I'm coming and there's nothing they can do'

Speaking from Las Vegas yesterday, Tyson said he was looking forward to seeing New Zealand

"Fortunately, I am coming to New Zealand and there's nothing they can do about it and I'm so sorry, I'm sorry they feel disappointed and I'm just living my life."

Hundreds of people have already paid up to $395 to see Tyson's show at Vector Arena.

- nzherald.co.nz

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