Prime Minister defends Czech drug smuggler’s residency

The AM Show 30/10/2018

Jacinda Ardern has defended the decision to grant residency to a convicted drug lord, saying his life could be in danger if he was sent home.

Karel Sroubek fled to New Zealand from the Czech Republic on a false passport in 2003, fleeing who he claimed were corrupt police after witnessing a murder. He soon became affiliated with Hell's Angels, and was imprisoned for importing drugs, among other charges.

Sroubek was refused parole by the Parole Board in September, but Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway stepped in to stop his deportation - a decision which has been slammed by National's Justice spokesperson Mark Mitchell.

But the Prime Minister is standing by Mr Lees-Galloway, telling The AM Show it was a difficult decision for him to make, and that Sroubek now has a "very clear understanding of the choices he is now making".

"This is now a decision for him," Ms Ardern said, adding that previous Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse would have been forced to make similar difficult decisions.

"It's not something I think the minister has found an easy decision," said Ms Ardern. "The last minister of immigration was roughly making calls like this on average about 40 a year. These cases do come up [and] they're not easy."

The Prime Minister said her understanding is that Sroubek, also known as Jan Antolik, had been granted permanent residency "some years ago", but was liable for deportation over the fact that his original visa was in a false name.

"That's not unusual, given the particular circumstances," she said, alluding to the accusation Sroubek made about his life being threatened back home. Ms Ardern said "anyone looking into" Sroubek's case "might infer" that the reason he was granted safety in New Zealand is because of the threat to his life back home.

"Why else would a minister make a decision around a case like this? Otherwise it would be very obvious what you would do, unless you had some countervailing facts," said Ms Ardern.

"Obviously, if there wasn't something on the other side of the ledger, it would be a very obvious case for deportation. There are some pretty heavy things that the minister has had to weigh up."

During Mr Sroubek's 2009 trial for using a false passport, he reportedly said he had been threatened by Czech police, who wanted him to lie and clear the main subject in a murder investigation. It was these threats that apparently led him to flee to New Zealand.

Immigration New Zealand said Mr Lees-Galloway's decisions are made in "absolute discretion". That means the decision by the minister can't be applied for, the minister doesn't have to consider any request, nor does the minister have to provide a reason for the decision.

If Sroubek fails to meet the conditions of his residency, he will again be eligible for deportation. The conditions include not getting convicted of any offence in the next five years, not using any fraudulent IDs and not providing any Government agency with false or misleading information.

But National's Mr Mitchell isn't convinced it was the right decision to thwart Sroubek's deportation. The Opposition has called for Mr Lees-Galloway to step down if he cannot explain why he made his decision.

"For privacy and legal reasons, as is standard practice for all administrations, I can't disclose the details of this case," said Mr Lees-Galloway.

Watch the full interview with Jacinda Ardern above.

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