Hundreds of faulty security cameras have been installed in cabs across New Zealand, leading to sexual and violent attacks going unpunished.
Former Auckland man Yueyingtan Leng, also known as Eric, is wanted by police after allegedly selling 800 cameras and GPS monitors to taxi firms. He claimed they were Hikvision devices, but the manufacturer says they were not, and that he had no access to their devices. However, Leng had used Hikvisioin specs to gain approval as an installer by the New Zealand Transport Agency. Whatever he installed, most did not work.
The case has enraged taxi firms who say they were unable to pass on footage to police in several violent attacks, and one allegation of sexual assault by a driver.
The cameras were installed in the cars of Auckland companies Reliable Cabs and Sail Cabs, and Christchurch's Blue Star.
Blue Star taxi chairman Wayne Branks said since the faulty cameras were installed, his drivers had been the victim of four assaults, three incidents of theft and each time offenders could not be identified as the images were not picked up.
"We had four requests from police for footage and we were only able to do so on one occasion," he said. "We have estimated the failure rate to be about 80 per cent."
One of the incidents involved armed robbers who held up a pub. The robbers had been in one of their taxis, but the company was unable to help police inquiries. Another taxi driver had a broken wrist from an assault; still another was accused of a sexual assault of a patron - but each time, there was no footage.
The driver accused of sexual assault had since left the company, Branks said.
"Lives are at risk and the whole reason for the cameras was to improve safety for both taxi drivers and customers, but if they don't work, what is the point?"
Branks said the NZTA did not check the machines before approving them and should have introduced rules about how they should be installed.
Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse said he was concerned about the reports and would be seeking more information.
The cameras cost $700 each; it will cost companies $1000 to replace with functioning models.
In a statement, NZTA spokesman Andy Knackstedt said the agency was aware of allegations of substandard or counterfeit equipment. "Issues of quality and authenticity are civil matters between the sellers and buyers of the equipment," he said.
Taxi Federation spokesman John Hart said he had heard some cameras were "suspect". "We are concerned that they were approved by NZTA and the safety of taxi drivers is being put at risk," he said.
Dad-of-two Parnav Kumar, 38, who drives for Reliable Cabs in Auckland, said selling faulty cameras was low. "I would not pick up anyone who looked a bit drunk if I didn't have a camera that worked properly."