A review has found that Immigration NZ should be able to make inquiries into deportation cases if the Immigration Minister asks them to, which may have made a difference in the case of Karel Sroubek.
But the review also notes that the grounds to deport Sroubek from the beginning were "sufficiently powerful" and Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway's initial refusal to do so was "unexpected".
The review of INZ's processes was ordered in the wake of Lees-Galloway's decision to Sroubek residency despite a conviction for drug-smuggling and an admission that he used a false identity to gain a resident visa.
Lees-Galloway revisited the case after it emerged that Sroubek may have travelled back to the Czech Republic, and following reports that his estranged wife no longer supported his residency bid.
After the review, Lees-Galloway issued a new deportation notice to Sroubek, who is appealing it from prison where he is serving his sentence for drug-smuggling
after being recently denied parole.
Lees-Galloway also ordered a review of INZ process, which was conducted by Mike Heron QC and was released today.
It found that INZ had sound processes but there was room for improvement.
One of the five recommendations was for INZ to be able to check or corroborate information at the request of the minister, or the designated decision-maker.
Heron said it was risky to make a decision "without receiving any advice or recommendations and without any verification of the reliability of the information" before the Minister.
"This process puts both the Minister and INZ at risk. Whilst Sroubek is an unusual case, it does provide an example of the manifestation of that risk.
"The grounds contained in the case file summary were understood by most to be sufficiently powerful such that the original decision of the Minister was unexpected."
If INZ could have made inquiries at the Minister's request, Lees-Galloway may have decided from the outset that Sroubek should be deported.
Lees-Galloway has previously said that he would have "likely" decided to deport Sroubek from the outset if he had seen evidence that Sroubek had returned to the Czech Republic, which would have undermined Sroubek's claim that deporting him would endanger his life.
Lees-Galloway had specifically asked INZ officials if Sroubek had returned to the Czech Republic, but was told that the information could not be provided.
INZ general manager Stephen Dunstan justified this last year by saying that officials do not play an "investigative" role in the process.
INZ officials never asked Sroubek if he had been back to the Czech Republic until after they were ordered to review the case, and he confirmed he had been there twice in 2009.
It also emerged that INZ had been told by Customs that Sroubek had flown into Frankfurt and driven to the Czech Republic in 2009 - but this information was somehow lost and not given to Lees-Galloway to inform his initial decision.
National Party justice spokesman Mark Mitchell said the review showed that Lees-Galloway made the wrong decision from the beginning.
"The system works but Iain Lees-Galloway stuffed up. This report cost taxpayers $155,000, more than most New Zealanders earn a year to tell us what we already knew."
Other recommendations from the Heron review include:
• The minister should be able to request advice from Immigration NZ in complex cases and INZ should develop further guidance for the minister on the types of cases warranting specific advice from officials.
• A simplified two-stage process could be applied to criminal cases where the offence is relatively minor.
• Consideration should be given to shifting the process in automatic liability cases (involving more serious offending) to after an appeal to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal.
The Heron review looked at a representative sample of 30 case files, including Sroubek's, between November 1, 2016 and October 31, 2018.
MBIE chief executive Carolyn Tremain welcomed the review's findings and said MBIE would implement all of its recommendations.
"The review found that every one of 30 case files reviewed was drafted fairly and objectively by INZ."
• 2003: Karel Sroubek flees Czech Republic as witness to a murder. Enters New Zealand with false passport in name of Jan Antolik.
• 2008: Gains residency under the name Jan Antolik 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 gang members 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, Sept 17: Parole Board declines early release.
• 2018, Sept 19: Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway cancels Sroubek's deportation, grants resident visa in his real name with conditions.
• 2018, Nov 1: Lees-Galloway says he did not know of court documents showing Sroubek had returned to Europe in 2009. Orders Immigration NZ to investigate.
• 2018, Nov 8: Pressure intensifies on Lees-Galloway after he concedes he didn't read the entire Sroubek case file and made his decision in under an hour. National calls for his resignation.
• 2018, Nov 28: Lees-Galloway issues a new deportation liability notice to Sroubek, meaning he will be deported after finishing his jail term. Sroubek is appealing the decision. Lees-Galloway orders review into INZ processes.
• 2018, Dec 23: Lees-Galloway says he would have deported Sroubek from the outset if he had known Sroubek had returned to the Czech Republic in 2009. Says he asked INZ officials, but was told the information could not be ascertained. INZ says its team does not have an investigatory role.
• Today: Review into INZ processes makes five recommendations, including that INZ should have inquiry powers if the minister has unanswered questions.