By SCOTT INGLIS, GREGG WYCHERLEY and NZPA
The inmate Associate Corrections Minister Tariana Turia tried to have transferred out of Auckland Prison at Paremoremo is a career criminal who has robbed banks and escaped from jail three years ago.
Government sources have confirmed the inmate is Matthew Solomon Thompson, who was sentenced to 11 years' jail in 1995 for the armed robbery of three banks and pointing a rifle at a policeman.
The National Party has been calling for Mrs Turia's head since obtaining documents showing she interfered in Thompson's case on a number of occasions.
Yesterday, National MP Tony Ryall made a fresh allegation that she had asked to see the file of a prisoner who wanted his charges reviewed. He said new evidence showed she had systematically used her position to try to influence prison authorities.
In 1998, Thompson escaped with three other inmates from Auckland Prison at Paremoremo, New Zealand's biggest maximum security jail.
Mrs Turia often used her official ministerial letterhead when writing to the Corrections Department on Thompson's behalf.
She tried to have him transferred to Wanganui prison so he could be closer to whanau.
Mrs Turia said Thompson lived with her family for a year when he was put into the state's care as a teenager, but she did not consider the case presented a conflict of interest.
"I am not prepared to resign. I haven't done anything wrong."
Despite repeated Opposition attacks, Prime Minister Helen Clark has backed her minister.
At the time of Thompson's escape in 1998 with bank robber Arthur Taylor and two others, police described all four as "bad, bad criminals."
The public was warned they were dangerous and might be armed.
Thompson escaped from medium security at Paremoremo after being transferred from maximum.
All four were eventually arrested on the Coromandel Peninsula and returned to prison.
Thompson started his criminal career as a youngster.
By the time he was 18, he had served periodic detention, corrective training and jail terms and was sentenced in June 1995 to 15 months' jail for escaping.
He graduated to bank robbery in 1995, earning an 11-year sentence for a spree of robberies around the North Island and for pointing a rifle at a police officer chasing him.
At the first robbery, in Ohakune in January 1995, he carried a sawn-off shotgun and escaped with $25,575, which was never recovered.
In February 1995, he ran into a Wanganui bank with a cut-down .22 rifle and filled his bag with $27,000. He ran from the bank with a police officer hot on his heels.
Thompson pointed the rifle at the officer and told him to stop.
The third robbery was in March the same year, when Thompson, armed with a shotgun, and an accomplice, robbed tellers of $14,500.
Thompson had three years added to his sentence after pleading guilty to escaping from prison, breaking into buildings and stealing a car while on the run. He was 21 years old.
Former Wanganui Senior Sergeant Mike Keaney, who worked in the district for 11 years, said Thompson started stealing cars when he could "hardly see over the wheel".
"He was a professional criminal at a very young age ... he was totally obsessed with doing wrong." Mr Keaney said he was "quite disgusted" that Mrs Turia was trying to arrange for Thompson to be sent to Wanganui where, he said, Thompson would have a better chance of escaping and be near old associates.
It is understood that Thompson is still serving his sentence at Paremoremo, although it is not known if his security rating has been lowered.