Before Karel Sroubek was in the middle of a political storm over his residency, the drug smuggler was in contact with two colourful characters from Operation Ark.

Just days after being found guilty of passport fraud, Karel Sroubek - better known as Jan Antolik at the time - was back in the Auckland District Court.

The man now at the centre of a New Zealand deportation row was caught up in Operation Ark; a covert police investigation in 2011 which targeted the widespread manufacture and distribution of millions of Ecstasy analogues.

Those behind the designer drugs claimed they were "legal highs".

A jury disagreed and the Supreme Court eventually upheld their decision that the chemical structure of the pills was "substantially similar" to banned drugs, and therefore illegal.

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Antolik, as he was known back in 2011, was a New Zealand representative kickboxer and aspiring businessman.

He was a minor player in Operation Ark; charged with manufacturing a few hundred pills and evidence he ordered 10,000 more.

Read more:
Operation Ark: Inside NZ's $50m designer drug ring

The 1080 blackmail: How police found a needle in a haystack

Antolik argued the pills were training supplements, but in 2014, he was convicted in a judge-alone trial of manufacturing a Class-C drug and sentenced to home detention.

The conviction was seized on by Immigration New Zealand, as Antolik had been discharged without conviction on the passport and immigration fraud - despite the jury's guilty verdicts.

But the Operation Ark conviction was overturned on a technicality by the Court of Appeal.

Instead, the Court of Appeal said the charge of manufacturing a Class-C drug should be replaced with possession of a Class-C drug for supply.

Jan Antolik, also known as Karel Sroubek, was found guilty of passport and immigration charges. Photo / Steven McNichol.
Jan Antolik, also known as Karel Sroubek, was found guilty of passport and immigration charges. Photo / Steven McNichol.

A new trial was ordered but never went ahead, as he traded Ectasy analogues for the real deal.

He was arrested in 2014 and charged with importing MDMA, a Class-B drug, then convicted at trial in 2016. He's currently serving a prison sentence of four years and nine months and was declined parole in September.

So the Crown decided against pursuing the Operation Ark prosecution, as even if he was convicted on the amended charge, Antolik would not spend any more time in prison.

While he was a minor player in Operation Ark, Antolik was linked to two of the more colourful characters.

The evidence showed Antolik was working with Dr Andy Lavrent and Jeremy Kerr in October and November 2011 - around the time of his passport trial.

Dr Andy Lavrent is serving nine years and eight months in prison. Photo / NZ Herald.
Dr Andy Lavrent is serving nine years and eight months in prison. Photo / NZ Herald.

Lavrent was a bio-chemist who, like the lead character in the Breaking Bad television show, gave scientific advice to the Operation Ark ringleaders on the merits of various compounds.

Parcels of white powders - labelled as "corrosion inhibitor" and later as "taurine" - were sent from China to Lavrent's lab.

Lavrent then supplied the powders to pill pressers, such as Jeremy Hamish Kerr, who fulfilled the orders for customers. Antolik was one of those customers, according to the Crown case.

Lavrent and Kerr talked about someone called "our friend" or "our friend Mr Y", whom the Crown alleged was Jan Antolik.

Antolik never disputed Lavrent and Kerr were dealing in illegal drugs, just that he was ordering legal training supplements from them.

Nearly $900,000 cash was found in Lavrent's Remuera house and he is currently serving a prison sentence of nine years and eight months.

Kerr, who was pressing the pills in his pest-control poison factory in east Auckland, eventually pleaded guilty to possession of a Class-C drug for supply and selling a Class-C drug.

He was sentenced to 15 months in prison, on top of the eight-and-a-half years he received for blackmailing Fonterra.

Kerr was unmasked as the poison pen behind anonymous letters threatening to spike infant formula with 1080.

Jeremy Hamish Kerr pleaded guilty to blackmail with 1080 threats and pressing illegal pills. Photo / Jason Oxenham.
Jeremy Hamish Kerr pleaded guilty to blackmail with 1080 threats and pressing illegal pills. Photo / Jason Oxenham.

The threat triggered national security protocols, frightened parents, threatened New Zealand's relationship with trading partner China and cost the country millions of dollars; nearly $5m for the police investigation alone.

Detectives in Operation Conchord spent months whittling down a list of 2600 suspects to just one.

When he was finally interviewed by police in 2015, Jeremy Hamish Kerr was shown a photograph taken inside Kerr's factory in which a container labelled 1080 was visible.

Kerr: "God, where on Earth did you get that? Amazing ... well there you go, there's the sample…"

The photograph was taken during the Operation Ark raids, four years earlier.

Talented but trouble

2003:

Karel Sroubek flees Czech Republic as witness to a murder. Enters New Zealand with false passport in name of Jan Antolik. Later gains residency and represents his new country as a kickboxer.

2009: True identity discovered when Czech police contact their counterparts in NZ.

2010: Arrested with two Hells Angels on aggravated robbery and blackmail charges. Acquitted on all charges.

2011: Jury finds him guilty of using false passport and giving false details to Immigration officials. Arrested soon after as part of Operation Ark, a covert investigation into Ecstasy-like pills.

2012: Judge discharges him without conviction on false identity charges so Antolik is not automatically deported.

2014: Convicted of manufacturing Class-C drug from Operation Ark arrest. Conviction overturned but Crown abandons second trial. A few months later, arrested importing 5kg of MDMA, a Class-B controlled drug, used in Ecstasy.

2016: Convicted of importing MDMA and jailed for five years and nine months, but identity kept secret by sentencing judge.

2017: Name suppression lifted.

2018: Parole Board declines early release. Sroubek embroiled in political storm after Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway cancels his deportation.