By AUDREY YOUNG, political editor
A new document in the "lie in unison" immigration scandal shows officials may have lied to an investigating Ombudsman about the existence of the explosive memo.
This revelation - that Ombudsman Mel Smith was fobbed off last month in a letter from the Immigration Service - will cause acute embarrassment to its minister and executives.
Earlier, they had defended the memo as "satire" and said the author was being flippant.
The Ombudsman was denied the memorandum, but the Herald has obtained a copy and the author, Immigration spokesman Ian Smith, confirmed on Monday night that he wrote the "lying in unison" words about the arrival of a terror suspect.
Two inquiries were confirmed late yesterday into his conduct - by the Ombudsman and by the head of immigration, ordered by Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel.
She acted after the Herald told her of assurances previously given to the Ombudsman in the letter.
Ms Dalziel asked Immigration Service general manager Andrew Lockhart to investigate. "What you [the Herald] have said to me is sufficient for me to have concerns and now to raise them with the general manager."
Previous assurances given by Ian Smith to the Ombudsman that he had no recall of such information - comments attached to media logs - and that he had no record of it appear to contradict yesterday's Herald disclosure of a memo written by Mr Smith in December about the case of Ahmed Zaoui, an Algerian asylum seeker.
"I was let down badly," the internal note said. "Everyone had agreed to lie in unison, but all the others caved in and I was the only one left singing the original song."
The comment was attached to a Herald editorial of December 17 which severely criticised Mr Smith and the Immigration Service for its handling of the Zaoui case.
The Ombudsman has been investigating a refusal to provide information requested under the Official Information Act by National MP Murray McCully.
Mr McCully yesterday asked the Ombudsman to reopen his inquiries.
He said he began making information requests because he had received information which led him to believe there were exchanges within Immigration Service management "that demonstrated their knowledge that they were answering those questions [on Zaoui] untruthfully".
By mid-year, the request had been refined to requesting " ... all emails or other correspondence or memoranda circulated within NZIS which comment on the Zaoui case, including comments from NZIS staff on information contained within media logs."
Mr McCully said the Ombudsman was "reasonably persistent". He had asked for an absolute assurance from Immigration Service officials that no information met the description in the request and had received it.
A letter from the Ombudsman on June 27 said: "I subsequently received advice from Mr Ian Smith that he has no record of any such information, nor is he able to recall any information of this nature."
But the Herald learned last night that such was the concern within the Immigration Service about the comments Mr Smith habitually attached to his media logs, that Mr Lockhart asked him in January - soon after he became general manager - to stop doing it.
As the former chief operating officer, Mr Lockhart was a regular recipient of the media logs, as were about 20 immigration managers in New Zealand and overseas.
Ms Dalziel said she had been made aware only on Monday night of Mr Lockhart's action to stop the media logs. She had never received Mr Smith's media logs.
And she said she had not been aware of Official Information Act requests or the Ombudsman's involvement until being told of them last night by the Herald.
The Ombudsman would not comment on whether the Immigration Service might have misled his office.
"They produced all the information to me that they had. I went through that and confirmed to them that that was all they had and I was told that it was."
He said his staff had dealt with Ian Smith and he had dealt with Mr Lockhart. Asked if he had the same assurances from both men, he said: "Not quite but I am not at liberty to say how that came about."
Mr Lockhart said that his dealings with the Ombudsman had been on security issues.
A person convicted of misleading an Ombudsman can be fined $200.
Mr McCully said he had reached an "inescapable conclusion that there was a planned and concerted effort to deceive the media and the Ombudsman.
"Clearly the Ombudsman was lied to."
Lies, barefaced lies and satire
DECEMBER 17, 2002
"I was let down badly. Everyone had agreed to lie in unison, but all the others caved in." - Internal memo from Immigration Service spokesman Ian Smith
JUNE 27, 2003
"I subsequently received advice from Mr Ian Smith of the NZIS that he has no record of any such information, nor is he able to recall any information of this nature." - Letter from Mel Smith, Ombudsman, to Sarah Boyle, of the Leader of the Opposition's office, after investigating whether the Immigration Service had a memo like the one above.
JULY 29, 2003
"You indicated to me on the telephone this morning that you made quite specific inquiries of the Service and received quite precise assurances that no such material existed. In other words the Immigration Service has told a barefaced lie to the Ombudsman." - Letter from East Coast Bays MP Murray McCully to the Ombudsman.
"The words were nothing more than a satirical aside prompted by the tone of the Herald editorial which was unreasonably critical of the Immigration Service and Mr Smith for not providing immediate comment on a complex situation." - Media statement issued by Immigration Service general manager Andrew Lockhart.
By AUDREY YOUNG, political editor