Jared Savage

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

Fraudster's debt to NZ hits $150k

Salam Mansoor Abdelabbas Al-Bawi continued to receive a sickness benefit even after he was banned from re-entering the country. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey
Salam Mansoor Abdelabbas Al-Bawi continued to receive a sickness benefit even after he was banned from re-entering the country. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey

An immigration fraudster stripped of his citizenship and barred from New Zealand owes taxpayers more than $150,000.

This figure includes $87,000 of welfare payments made to Salam Mansoor Abdelabbas Al-Bawi while he was living in the country unlawfully - much more than the $2500 previously disclosed, according to new documents.

The balance is made up of legal costs ordered against him for his failed appeal to stay in New Zealand ($33,415) and legal aid for other court cases, including an unsuccessful civil case against a newspaper ($37,288).

Al-Bawi was convicted of lying to New Zealand authorities in order to gain refugee status, residency, citizenship, and a passport under the name John Jacob Abrahim Joseph.

The Iraqi last year lost a High Court appeal against a ministerial decision to revoke his citizenship and passport because it was obtained by "fraudulent conduct".

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

Yet a $360-a-week sickness benefit for Al-Bawi was stopped only after the Herald contacted Work and Income, which was unaware he was no longer a citizen.

The story exposed an "exceptionally small anomaly" in data-matching records, where the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) did not match records with the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) or the Immigration Service for people whose right to live here is revoked.

The loophole is now closed but new documents show Al-Bawi received significantly more taxpayer-funded benefits than the $2500 overpayment initially established by MSD investigators.

A report released under the Official Information Act shows the MSD was not even aware of Al Bawi's convictions for identity and immigration fraud in 2008 until contacted by the Herald.

A wider review of his welfare payments showed he received the emergency benefit soon after claiming refugee status in 2000 and continued to receive different payments "on and off" until 2012.

"The effect of Mr Al-Bawi's identity fraud and immigration fraud means that we can be satisfied that he was never lawfully resident in New Zealand," the report said.

The MSD at first declined to release the total of all benefit money paid to Al-Bawi, citing the privacy provisions of the Official Information Act.

But Debbie Power, head of Work and Income, later confirmed that Al-Bawi owes $87,000 to taxpayers.

The MSD now works with DIA and Immigration NZ on a case-by-case basis to ensure welfare payments are stopped for those whose citizenship is revoked or are deported.

IMMIGRANT NOT WHO HE SAID HE WAS

Salam Al-Bawi came to New Zealand in 2000 and was granted refugee status under the John 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 ($92,000) 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 John Joseph's original name was Al-Bawi and he had a violence conviction he had not declared on arrival here.

Al-Bawi later pleaded guilty to four immigration fraud charges and was sentenced in March 2008 to six months' home detention. He was unsuccessful in overturning the convictions in the Court of Appeal.

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

In February 2012, 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."

Justice Lang later ruled that Al-Bawi pay the legal costs of the DIA which came to $33,415.

Al-Bawi also received $37,288 legal aid for a series of court cases, including taxpayer funds to sue the National Business Review and a journalist despite no longer being in the country. The case was thrown out.

NOT A MODEL CITIZEN

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 New Zealand 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. Still received $360 a week sickness benefit until Herald inquiries.

Al-Bawi owes

$87,000 Welfare payments to MSD
$33,415 Legal costs to DIA after losing appeal
$37,288 Legal aid to Justice Ministry, including a failed civil suit against the National Business Review newspaper
$157,703 Total

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n3 at 02 Sep 2014 10:36:04 Processing Time: 604ms