Mogul claims residency checks set aside to lure him within FBI’s reach but government denies interference.
Kim Dotcom is challenging government minister Jonathan Coleman to explain why he didn't block his application for residency after learning of an FBI investigation into him.
Dotcom claims Immigration officials broke their own rules to grant him residency in a ploy to lure him to New Zealand so the FBI would have an easier time of extraditing him on criminal copyright charges.
There were denials from the Government yesterday of interference in Dotcom's residency after emails between SIS agents in 2010 cited "political pressure to process this case". The claim was made 90 minutes before the spy agency lifted its objection to the tycoon's residency.
Dotcom said it was hard to believe then-Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman was told of the FBI investigation on October 28, 2010 - the day his residency was decided - and then didn't move to block it.
"Why in the world with that knowledge would the Minister of Immigration not intervene and say this is going to be a bad look for us knowing there is an investigation and a desire to extradite. [They would say] we can't give this guy residency just because of the money ..."
He claims a decision to work with the US to get him into New Zealand for easier extradition was behind the decision.
Dotcom said his bid for residency should have failed because of Immigration NZ rules which automatically put applications on hold for six months if those seeking entry are under "investigation".
Dotcom said the SIS emails made it clear Immigration NZ knew of the FBI investigation but there was no reference to it in the report which saw him granted residency. He said that was because it would have triggered the automatic six-month hold.
"In order to overcome that barrier they left it out wilfully so they could go out and give me residency."
Immigration NZ, which denies any "political pressure", confirmed the six-month hold for those under investigation. But an Immigration spokesman said the agency "was not aware of any active investigation under way by the FBI" - only that he was a "person of interest".
"It was decided that the information received did not meet the threshold to trigger a deferral of the residence application because of character concerns."
The FBI investigation was a feature in secret SIS documents. Staff at the spy agency insisted information about an FBI "criminal investigation" be passed to Immigration NZ. On October 28 they gave information to Immigration NZ's most senior intelligence official about the FBI's wish to carry out a joint investigation with the NZ Police into Dotcom.
The information was passed to officials, and then Immigration chief executive Nigel Brickle, who briefed Mr Coleman.
The SIS told Immigration NZ to contact police before giving Dotcom residency - a step it never took.
Mr Coleman yesterday denied any political pressure, saying the decision was made by Immigration officials alone.
The decision document, obtained through the Official Information Act by the Herald, contains no mention of the FBI interest in Dotcom. It was signed off by an official and approved by his branch manager.
The official said he "did not consider that it is in the national interest that the applicant be granted residence" and "a threat to public interest exists should the applicant be granted residence".
However, he said Dotcom's spending power outweighed the negative prospects, and granted residency.
Labour MP Grant Robertson said he was sceptical about Immigration NZ's denial of political pressure.
"I'm very concerned about the idea that the SIS magically decided the hold on the case no longer mattered 90 minutes after they heard about political pressure on Immigration NZ. And the fact INZ were told to talk to police and didn't do it really defies belief."
- additional reporting Claire Trevett
Busy time for Investor Plus scheme
The residency scheme for "high rollers" has moved into high gear since Kim Dotcom's money overcame the "character" concerns of officials.
Figures released to the Herald show 63 people in five years have been granted residency under the Investor Plus scheme.
Of those, 49 have been given residency in the last two years. The other 14 - including Dotcom - were approved in the three years before that.
The scheme aims to boost investment in this country through attracting wealthy foreigners who agree to invest $10 million or more here in return for residency. Dotcom had criminal convictions but his spending power outweighed them.
Immigration NZ said it did not have figures showing how many others coming in on the scheme had convictions.