Prime Minister John Key made a joke about fugitive Phillip John Smith, saying he would let Chile's President know she may not want to "invite [him] round for lunch".

Smith, who was jailed for life for murder and child abuse in 1996, flew to Chile using a passport obtained in his birth name - Phillip Traynor - while on temporary release from prison.

Chilean authorities have confirmed that Smith then took a flight to Brazil, but Mr Key was unaware of this when he made reference to the killer while at a press conference in Beijing yesterday.

He laughed as he told reporters he would alert Chilean President Michelle Bachelet about Smith when they meet at the Apec summit today.


"I'll just let her know there's someone who could be out there from New Zealand that you may not want to invite round for lunch."

ON THE MOVE: Smith took flight from Chile to Brazil
FUGITIVE'S FATHER: 'Absolute stupidity to let him out'
REIGN OF TERROR Long history of terrifying and abusive behaviour

Mr Key's joke raised eyebrows on Twitter, with Labour deputy leadership hopeful Jacinda Ardern among those to criticise the remark.

Watch: Smith's escape: Police and Corrections under fire

Killer Phillip Smith fled the country on a passport under the name of Phillip Traynor. Now, Corrections and Internal Affairs have been working with police on finding out how a convicted murderer and child abuser could leave the country undetected.