COMMENT: The public is being asked to place a great deal of trust in the Prime Minister and her Immigration Minister, Ian Lees-Galloway, over his decision not to deport a convicted drug smuggler on the criminal's release from prison. Confidence in the decision is not helped by the minister's need now to check a photograph that casts doubt on Karel Sroubek's claim that he cannot safely return to the Czech Republic.
He came here on a false passport in 2003 and when prosecuted for that in 2011, he convinced a judge he had good reason to hide his true identity — that effectively he was a refugee — and was not convicted. Allowed to remain in this country, he started importing an illegal drug, for which he was convicted in 2016 and is still in prison.
On the face of it, this man has already been given a break by New Zealand authorities and he has abused it.
Now he has been given another. Lees-Galloway has used his discretion under the Immigration Act to cancel Sroubek's liability for deportation and issue him with a resident visa on condition that he is not convicted of another offence within five years of his release from prison, that he does not use any fraudulent identity for those five years and does not provide false or misleading information, or conceal any relevant information, in dealings with any government agency during that period.
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"If you fail to meet the conditions imposed on your new resident visa," the minister told him by letter, "you may become liable for deportation under section 159 of the act. Your case would then need to be considered again." Since that did not sound definite, Lees-Galloway added, in italics, "This is a very serious matter and I do not condone your behaviour. I have given you one final chance to remain in New Zealand and this should serve as a clear warning to you."
The Government released that letter on Monday in response to demands for more information from the National Party and mounting public concern at the minister's decision. The same day, the Prime Minister endorsed her minister's decision and suggested people "read between the lines" to work out the reason Sroubek will not be deported.
She implied the reason was the same as the one he gave for entering New Zealand on a false passport, that he would be in danger from corrupt Czech prosecutors and an individual he had helped to convict of murder.
None of this is very reassuring in the light of Sroubek's subsequent criminal behaviour in New Zealand. His application for parole was refused in September. Yet that same month the minister waived his deportation.
Sroubek fled the Czech Republic at least 15 years ago. If the minister is convinced his life is still in danger there, the threat to deport him if he commits another crime in New Zealand is not credible. There must be another reason for granting the stay of deportation, a reason known only to those dealing with the case.
This is plainly unsatisfactory. Unless the public is given a more convincing explanation it is liable to conclude that when facing claims for asylum this Government may be too soft for the country's good.