A wealthy Malaysian businessman who was granted permanent residency has been found guilty of lying to immigration officials about work visas in the construction industry.

The now 35-year-old then attempted to gag the Herald from publicly revealing his crimes - which date back to 2009 - with a permanent suppression order.

But after losing a courtroom battle against Immigration New Zealand (INZ) and the Herald, it can now be revealed Hooi Keat Chai was found guilty of providing false and misleading information to INZ.

He was also convicted of presenting a fraudulent work visa on five occasions.

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Chai is the sole director and shareholder of Team NZ Constructions Ltd (TNZ), which was one of the 10 companies targeted by INZ in Operation Spectrum, a campaign to disrupt the flow of illegal workers from Malaysia.

The businessman has profited from Auckland's construction boom and has lived an affluent lifestyle during the past few years, driving a late model Porsche and living in a $2.3m home, according to his financial records.

Despite being named by the Weekend Herald after he was charged, Chai sought and was granted name suppression for the duration of his October trial for what he argued where his fair trial rights.

Judge Pippa Sinclair said Chai's name was hidden "out of an abundance of caution".

Chai went to trial having pleaded not guilty to a total of 10 charges of supplying false and misleading information and 13 charges of producing a fraudulently obtained visa.

Hooi Keat Chai walks past his Porsche after leaving the North Shore District Court. Photo / Michael Craig
Hooi Keat Chai walks past his Porsche after leaving the North Shore District Court. Photo / Michael Craig

But late on October 12 - at 9pm - he was found guilty of one charge of supplying fake information to INZ and of five charges for the fraudulent visa. He was acquitted on the remaining 17 charges.

His conviction for supplying a fraudulent document was for a work reference letter supporting his application for a work visa.

Chai had presented the fake visa at the border five times.

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Going by other names including Ben and Kok Tong Chai, he was further accused by INZ of deliberately changing his identity to deceive authorities and return to New Zealand illegally.

However, Chai was acquitted of those allegations.

He was also not convicted on charges which involved the unlawful labour element of Operation Spectrum.

After the verdicts were delivered, Chai - hoping to keep his name out of the papers - then sought name suppression on the grounds TNZ would suffer extreme financial hardship should he be named.

His defence team, led by Phil Hamlin, claimed the company would lose its big money offers with several construction projects - including with Downer Construction and Fletchers.

Hooi Keat Chai leaves the North Shore District Court after his legal team argued for name suppression. Photo / Michael Craig
Hooi Keat Chai leaves the North Shore District Court after his legal team argued for name suppression. Photo / Michael Craig

But Judge Sinclair was not convinced.

"I am not persuaded that publication would result in extreme hardship to Mr Chai, TNZ and its employees or Mr Chai's wife. In my view, Mr Chai's claimed position is not out of the ordinary or exceptional," she said in her decision.

"It is inevitable that Mr Chai's employment and livelihood could be affected, given he has been found guilty of immigration fraud. A conviction is likely to have an effect on his reputation. However, in my view it is a consequence which naturally flows from having a conviction. All persons who come before the court charged with a crime - or, in the case, convicted of a crime - will suffer distress and embarrassment and possible consequential loss."

Judge Sinclair added when offences involve dishonesty or fraud there is a public interest in potential clients being fully informed about the charges.

Chai, however, disputed Judge Sinclair's ruling and appealed to the High Court. But on Thursday he abandoned his bid to overturn the decision.

He will now be sentenced later this year.

Operation Spectrum, which ran over 2017 and 2018, targeted companies which recruited unlawful Malaysian workers as plasterers, painters, tilers or carpenters working as third-tier subcontractors.

It found several Malaysians had returned to New Zealand under different names, having previously lived unlawfully in New Zealand.

The sting also uncovered a weakness in border security. Some 15 people previously deported or who had fled from New Zealand were able to return under new identities.

On average, some 105 people had each lived in New Zealand unlawfully for five years, with one in the country for two decades.

Malaysian national Adam Gan Bin Abdullah was one man caught in the Operation Spectrum raids.

The builder was deported from New Zealand in 2012 under his previous name of Meng Kuang Gan, but changed his name and returned the following year.

Abdullah also managed to obtain permanent residency here.

He narrowly avoided going to prison last year and was sentenced to 10 months' home detention after he pleaded guilty to immigration fraud.

Malaysian national Adam Gan Bin Abdullah was also arrested in the INZ operation. Photo / Doug Sherring
Malaysian national Adam Gan Bin Abdullah was also arrested in the INZ operation. Photo / Doug Sherring