Karel Sroubek claims he cannot return to the Czech Republic because of fears for his life. But a High Court judgment shows he returned to his homeland, twice, while on bail for kidnapping and robbery charges.

The drug smuggler controversially allowed to stay in New Zealand - ostensibly because of fears for his life if he returned to the Czech Republic - travelled twice to the Czech Republic in 2009.

Karel Sroubek entered New Zealand in 2003 on a false passport in the name of Jan Antolik, later claiming the new identity was because he witnessed a murder in his homeland.

He told the jury in his trial he had fled his home in the Czech Republic in fear of corrupt police officers and a criminal after witnessing a murder.

While the jury found him guilty, Sroubek was discharged without conviction in 2012 by Judge Roy Wade who believed Sroubek's evidence.

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Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has this week come under fire for cancelling a deportation notice for Sroubek, although today said he was seeking a review of all information relating to his decision.

The Herald has obtained a 2009 High Court judgment which reveals Sroubek - under the name Antolik - twice successfully applied for his bail conditions to be loosened so he could travel to the Czech Republic.

At the time, he was on charges of aggravated robbery and kidnapping with two members of the Hells Angels and a professional kickboxer. All four were later acquitted.

But the bail judgment shows Sroubek returned to his homeland on business.

"He is the owner of two businesses which are involved in trade with parties in the Czech Republic and it is necessary for him to go there from time to time in order to facilitate transactions involving the import of Czech goods into New Zealand," wrote Justice Christopher Allan.

"Earlier this year, a similar application was made and granted over the opposition of the police. Mr Antolik duly went to Europe and returned in compliance with the conditions of the bail variation. Since then Mr Antolik has been committed for trial in this Court."

Justice Allan said Antolik was not a significant flight risk because he was a permanent resident of New Zealand and in a long-term relationship with a New Zealand citizen, with significant equity in the home they own.

"Moreover, Mr Antolik operates substantial businesses here, which involve the importation of goods from the Czech Republic. In other words, there is a great deal to tie him to this
jurisdiction.

"Mr Antolik has already demonstrated that he can be trusted to return at the time advised to the Court, because he has already complied with the terms of a similar variation granted earlier in the year as discussed above."

Antolik's passport - later found to be false - was returned to him for a three week period in September 2009 so he could travel to the Czech Republic.

While the Government has not revealed exactly why Lees-Galloway intervened in the case, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said the public should "read between the lines" and pointed to previous Herald coverage of the case.

National Party leader Simon Bridges has called for Lees-Galloway to resign if he can't justify the decision.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway announcing he has received new information on Czech criminal Karel Sroubek. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway announcing he has received new information on Czech criminal Karel Sroubek. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

This week, the judge who gave Sroubek a second chance reiterated his belief in his story.

Sroubek's guilty verdicts on the false passport charges in 2011 would normally lead to a conviction and jail sentence, in turn giving the Immigration Minister automatic grounds to deport Sroubek - without any avenue for appeal - for being convicted of holding a visa under a false identity.

But Judge Roy Wade discharged Sroubek without conviction - on completion of 200 hours of community work - so he could argue his case to stay and not be "removed from this country without proper procedure and review''.

Karel Sroubek came to New Zealand from the Czech Republic in September 2003 to start a new life as Jan Antolik.

He was 22 at the time, and said his family had been threatened by two police officers who wanted them to lie and clear the main suspect in a murder investigation.

Instead, he left a videotaped witness statement that was later crucial in convicting the killer, and fled the country with a doctored passport.

But he was unmasked in October 2009 when Czech police gave Auckland detectives details of his identity and an arrest warrant on minor charges in connection with the 2003 murder.

On hearing the evidence, Judge Wade was convinced that Antolik would still be in danger from corrupt Czech authorities and the man he helped convict of murder if he were deported back to the Czech Republic.

"I am satisfied that your initial false applications were as a result of you doing the right thing, not the wrong thing," Judge Wade said in sentencing Sroubek in 2012.

"Furthermore, had you been frank with the authorities when you first came here, it seems plain that you would have been granted a work permit and, ultimately, residence in any event, on your own merits.''

Judge Wade was unaware Sroubek had been arrested as part of Operation Ark, a covert investigation into Ecstasy-like pills, just days after his false passport trial in 2011.

He was later convicted of being a party to the manufacture of Class-C controlled drugs, although the conviction was later overturned on a technicality and the prosecution abandoned.

Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson's take on the deportation decision of Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway.
Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson's take on the deportation decision of Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway.

Now retired, Judge Wade told the Herald he still believed Sroubek's story about fearing for his life.

"It was all very suspicious that the Czech police sought an international arrest warrant for the most trivial of matters. Obviously keen to get him back," said Judge Wade.

"I personally have no doubts about the truthfulness of his case. The great shame is, of course, he went overboard later with the drug smuggling and gang connections."

Just two years later, Sroubek was arrested and charged with smuggling 5kg of MDMA, better known as Ecstasy, from the Czech Republic.

One plank of his defence was the Ecstasy was planted in the shipping container as revenge by the man he helped convict of murder in the Czech Republic.

Sroubek was found guilty by the jury in 2016 and sentenced to five years and nine months in prison - a conviction he unsuccessfully sought to be quashed in the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal said the jury was entitled to conclude the defence theory was "far fetched".

"The jury plainly rejected the evidence of Mr Antolik and his mother and must have been satisfied that the Crown had excluded the reasonable possibility that someone else had planted the MDMA in the container without Mr Antolik's knowledge in order to frame him."

Now 37, Sroubek is still in prison after failing to convince the Parole Board to release him early.

While a psychologist assessed Sroubek's risk of reoffending as "low", the Parole Board chaired by Judge Phil Gittos found he "presents a complex and more comprehensive risk of reoffending than his criminal conviction history in this country would betray".

"We had a lengthy interview with Mr Antolik in which aspects of the matters referred to above were put to him for comment. His responses were self-exculpatory, evasive, long-winded and ultimately in our view in many respects manifestly untruthful when measured against the facts."

The Parole Board also noted Sroubek's close association with the Hells Angels and that the Czech Republic were still seeking his extradition, which had been on hold until a decision had been made on deportation.

While it hasn't been explicitly stated by Immigration Minister Lees-Galloway, it seems he was persuaded to cancel the deportation of Sroubek because of his evidence about why he fled from the Czech Republic.

Sroubek told the jury in his passport case about what happened on September 7 2003 - the day Vladimir Domacka was shot in the head with a revolver in Prague.

Sroubek was with a group of men when one, Stepan Cisar, smashed a bottle over another man. A scuffle broke out and Sroubek said he ran back to his car.

"I just didn't want to be a part of it, I had nothing to do with it."

Cisar then jumped into the car with him. "He said: 'Go, go, go, drive'. I said, 'What happened?' and he said: 'I think I just shot the guy'. Then I saw the gun in his hand," said Sroubek. "So of course I drove."

The next day Sroubek discovered Vladimir Domacka, a dodgy car dealer, was dead. He was called to a meeting with Cisar and two strangers, introduced as police officers. The pair said they could influence the investigation to make it look as if the gun fired accidentally during a struggle.

If he didn't co-operate, the police officers said Sroubek could be implicated in the murder and shot by police if he tried to run away.

His parents and close friends urged him to leave the country for his own safety, fellow kickboxer Jan Antolik giving Sroubek his own passport. He doctored the photo and fled to Germany, where he made a video statement about the murder and sent it back to Czech police.

A full transcript was given as evidence at Cisar's murder trial in December 2004, which convinced two other witnesses to come forward. The video was also played in the Auckland District Court to back up Sroubek's defence.

Cisar was convicted of murder, while the two other witnesses were given suspended sentences on charges of hooliganism and attempted bodily harm. An international arrest warrant for Sroubek still exists on those charges.

Sroubek went on to represent New Zealand at international kickboxing under the ring name of Jan "Atomic". He now imports fruit beverages from Europe for supermarkets around the country.

In his closing address to the jury, Crown prosecutor David Johnstone did not challenge Sroubek's story - but he did not need to prove the charge.

But Johnstone pointed out the two other witnesses at the murder trial still lived in the Czech Republic without any recrimination from the convicted mobster and received light sentences on their charges.

And despite fears of a corrupt police force, Johnstone said the Czech investigation was conducted in a proper manner with a transcript of Sroubek's statement presented unchanged at Cisar's trial.

"[Sroubek] preferred to stay in New Zealand rather than face a fair trial."