A wealthy Malaysian businessman granted permanent residency while working in the booming Auckland construction industry now faces deportation after lying to immigration officials.
Hooi Keat Chai, 35, was sentenced this week after a jury found him guilty last year of providing false and misleading information to Immigration New Zealand (INZ).
He was also found guilty of presenting a fraudulent work visa at the border on five occasions.
Judge Pippa Sinclair sentenced Chai, the sole director and shareholder of Team NZ Constructions Ltd (TNZ), to seven months' home detention on Thursday morning in the Auckland District Court.
He was arrested in March last year following INZ's Operation Spectrum, a campaign during 2017 and 2018 to disrupt the flow of illegal workers from Malaysia.
Chai has attempted to distance himself from the investigation and the Weekend Herald 's reporting of it, however, both the Crown and INZ argue Chai was identified during the operation as one of several Malaysians living in New Zealand under different names after previously living in the country illegally.
The businessman also unsuccessfully attempted to gag the Weekend Herald from publishing his crimes - which date to 2009 - with a permanent suppression order.
Chai first arrived in New Zealand in 2003 under the name Kok Tong Chai, but after his visa expired he remained in the country unlawfully until June 2015, the court heard on Thursday.
However, unbeknownst to Kiwi authorities, he also flew back to Malaysia and changed his name to Hooi Keat Chai before returning to New Zealand.
INZ failed to recognise that Kok Tong Chai and Hooi Keat Chai were one and the same person, the court heard.
Rich businessman gets NZ residency, now guilty of fraud
Chai, who was granted permanent Kiwi residency in 2014, used his fake work visa to suggest he was working in Malaysia when he was in fact illegally living in New Zealand.
He further used it to bolster his work history.
After declining to discharge him without conviction, the judge said Chai and his family, including his wife and two children, now face the prospect of deportation.
She said his offending "strikes at the heart of our immigration service and undermines it".
Chai was due to be sentenced in March but sacked his then-lawyer Phil Hamlin and hired Paul Dacre QC to represent him, causing another postponement to an already delayed case.
Judge Sinclair said at the time she had reservations and suspected the man also known as Ben Chai was "reluctant to face sentencing".
Chai was initially to be sentenced last December, but the hearing was adjourned as he made his ultimately unsuccessful attempt for permanent name suppression .
As part of his bid for secrecy, Chai said TNZ would lose big money offers with several construction projects - including with Downer and Fletcher - if it was publicly known he was guilty of immigration fraud.
The liquidation process for TNZ has now begun, the court heard on Thursday.
According to his financial records, Chai has profited from Auckland's construction boom and lived an affluent lifestyle in east Auckland.
At his sentencing, he argued there was no significant harm from the crimes because of the contribution he has made to New Zealand's building industry and wider community.
A pre-sentence report said Chai maintained he was "innocent of any wrongdoing".
Dacre said in many ways Chai had been a "very good contributor" to the community but acknowledged he faced the "very high likelihood" of deportation.
"This is a classic case where a conviction in itself triggers so much that it is a [significant] penalty."
The Queen's Counsel also accepted his client's offending requires a deterrence to maintain the integrity of the immigration system.
Chai had gone to trial last October facing 10 charges of supplying false and misleading information and 13 of producing a fraudulently obtained visa.
Despite being named by the Weekend Herald after he was charged, the businessman sought and was granted name suppression for the duration of the trial.
Returning its verdicts late in the evening of October 12, the jury found Chai guilty of one charge of supplying fake information to INZ and five charges relating to the fraudulent visa.
His conviction for supplying a fraudulent document was for a reference letter supporting his application for a work visa.
Chai was acquitted on 17 remaining charges.
INZ's Operation Spectrum caught 105 people here illegally and uncovered a weakness in New Zealand's border security.
Fifteen of those people had fled or been deported from New Zealand only to return and be allowed in using new identities.
Those 105 people had, on average, lived in New Zealand unlawfully for five years. One had lived here illegally for two decades.
Malaysian national Adam Gan Bin Abdullah was one man of them.
The builder was deported from New Zealand in 2012 under his previous name of Meng Kuang Gan, but changed his identity and returned the following year.
Abdullah also managed to obtain permanent residency here.
He narrowly avoided going to prison last year and was sentenced to 10 months' home detention after he pleaded guilty to immigration fraud.