A Nigerian drug smuggler who fooled immigration officials to get a job as a hospital psychiatrist was yesterday jailed for 16 months.

Chidozie Emmanuel Onovo, 40, did not reveal he had a criminal history - he was imprisoned in 1999 for two years for importing 4.5kg of cannabis into Britain - when he applied in December 2008 for a New Zealand visa.

After arriving here in January last year, Onovo got a work permit and was employed as a psychiatrist by the Canterbury District Health Board.

The board said no concerns were raised about his competence or treatment of patients.

It was not until August this year - after Onovo applied for residency with an application denying any past offending - that he was found out.

Immigration checks revealed he was a convicted drug smuggler, and that at the time he claimed to have been working in the medical field in Nigeria, he was serving his prison sentence in Britain.

When confronted, Onovo admitted his deception. Yesterday, he was sentenced in the Christchurch District Court to 16 months in jail on three immigration fraud charges.

Defence lawyer Errol Parsons had asked that Onovo be fined, saying his client wanted to leave New Zealand as soon as possible "for family reasons".

But Judge Gary McAskill said Onovo's crime challenged the integrity of the immigration system and required a sentence that would deter others from trying to dupe authorities.

In support of his residency application, Onovo supplied forged letters from hospitals in Nigeria, and the judge said qualifications Onovo claimed to possess were "doubtful".

Department of Labour prosecutor Shona Carr said it was a classic example of a crime difficult to detect when a person's declarations were taken on face value.

Immigration New Zealand said the integrity of its system was paramount.

"[Onovo] presented a job offer and seemingly credible documents, including references from Nigerian hospitals which, it turned out, were forged to cover for time when he was in jail in Britain for drug smuggling," said Immigration NZ head Nigel Bickle.

"Any non-New Zealand citizen or resident applying to come to New Zealand is required to declare any criminal convictions.

"In residence applications, there is also a question relating to any involvement in drug trading or trafficking.

"He failed to declare his history and our inquiries found him out," Mr Bickle said.

The Canterbury District Health Board said it went through all required processes and checks before employing Onovo.

"His credentials met the criteria for the position and included a certificate of good standing from the Irish Medical Council that showed at least three years of good practice in Ireland," a board official said.

Referee checks with doctors who had worked with Onovo were also made by the agency that the board used to fill his position.

Onovo failed to disclose to Immigration NZ that he had been to the United Kingdom or lived there for any period of time.

He also did not say he had previously been declined a visa or denied entry to Britain.

Mr Bickle said that while Onovo was serving his prison sentence, Immigration NZ would consider what action it should take when he was released.

HISTORY OF DECEIT
STEPHEN WILCE

Employed for five years as the Defence Force's chief scientist, Wilce resigned this month after being accused of making false claims about his history. He had told people that he had served in the Royal Marines and had worked for the British secret services MI5 and MI6. He had also claimed that he had been in the British Olympic team, first as a swimmer and later as a bobsleigh representative.

LINDA ASTOR

A Polish transvestite and fake doctor, Astor conned the New Zealand Medical Council, Hutt Valley Health and Nelson Marlborough Health Services to gain work as a psychiatrist. She was responsible for the discharge in 1996 of patient Leslie Parr, who subsequently decapitated his girlfriend. Astor disappeared in 1997, but was arrested in the United States in 2001.