Immigration Minister to reconsider Sroubek residency decision

Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway announced that he would reconsider the decision to grant residency to illegal immigrant and convicted drug importer Karel Sroubek after National brought up ‘new information’ in Parliament yesterday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had suggested that media ‘read between the lines’ on the decision and it was assumed that residency was granted because Sroubek feared for his safety if he returned. However it has been revealed that he has returned to the Czech Republic voluntarily since coming to New Zealand. This suggests that the safety concerns may have been overstated, and he may not have informed officials of his travel.

Both Lees-Galloway and  have pointed their fingers at immigration officials for not providing complete information.

1. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government’s statements and actions?

Hon Simon Bridges: Why did her Government grant residency to Karel Sroubek?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, to correctly categorise the decision that was made, my understanding is that he already had residency, albeit in an incorrect name.

Hon Simon Bridges: What is her response to the Dominion Post this morning, which said, “So yes, prime minister, we have read between the lines. Our reading of it suggests that Sroubek is a person of poor character, a criminal who cannot be trusted, who arrived here under false pretences. He should be deported. You have got this wrong.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, as that member should know given that when he was in office there were roughly 100 deportations cancelled. From time to time to time Ministers do have information put in front of them that makes for very difficult decisions. I have seen information that would suggest, from the information reports, that they have been in very similar circumstances.

Hon Simon Bridges: Isn’t it clear that her Government has prioritised a dangerous criminal’s welfare over public safety, contrary to her statement that any further offending actions by Karel Sroubek “sits with this individual … anything further is off the minister’s conscience and it’s on theirs.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That is being made absolutely clear by the Minister. He has put into writing that anything further would mean that he would automatically be deported. On the face of it, of course, it looks like an obvious decision, which demonstrates that from time to time, Ministers in this position do receive additional information. What we have to make sure is that that information that the Minister makes the decision on is consistent and clear, and that’s for officials to ensure that they have provided that.

Hon Simon Bridges: Isn’t it the case that since the early 2000s, Karel Sroubek has been back to the Czech Republic, and doesn’t that make any decision by Iain Lees-Galloway ridiculous?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The Minister made the decision based on the information he had at the time, and he is no different to any other Minister of any political persuasion. They have to deal with the information provided to them by officials. If there is information that contradicts the basis on which the Minister made the decision, then that would be for him to go back to the officials and seek further advice. I would have an expectation that he would do that.

Hon Simon Bridges: Did she and the Minister not know he had been to the Czech Republic since the early 2000s, and is she going to fess up they just got this clearly, badly wrong?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Every Minister does rely on the advice that they are provided by officials, and the Minister is no different in that regard to the last Minister, who overturned 108 deportations. We are all, as Ministers, reliant on the information we are provided. Again, if there is anything that contradicts the information that’s been provided, it is for the Minister to go back to officials, and it would be my expectation he would do that.

Winston Peters jumped in to try to support Ardern, and tried to divert blame to the National Government. His initial efforts were ruled out of order, and responses by National MPs were disproportionately punished by the Speaker.

Rt Hon David Carter: Because it’s not your job—

SPEAKER: That’s six. Any more?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yeah, OK. It’s worth it.

SPEAKER: That’s 10 supplementary questions that will be taken from the National Party today.

But Peters was allowed to rephrase.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: On the basis of information being given to this House in good faith, has the Prime Minister been appraised of the number of times this man came back into the country, and who was the Government at the time?

Ardern briefly took the opportunity to take a swipe at National but switched back to the more serious matter before her.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, members will draw their inference from the fact that we have only been in Government for 12 months. Again, though, I reiterate that a Minister would make a decision based on the information in front of him, and we would all have a fair expectation that if there is information to contradict that, we would expect the Minister to go back to his officials.

The next question also addressed the issue.

2. Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Justice: What is New Zealand’s process for extraditing Czech nationals to the Czech Republic, and what stage is the application for extradition of Karel Sroubek, also known as Jan Antolik, at?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice): The Czech Republic is able to make an application for extradition of one of their citizens, and any application is made under the Extradition Act 1996. There is a process that usually starts with an application being made through diplomatic channels. It goes to the Minister of Justice in New Zealand. It is an application ultimately determined by the District Court on the grounds of eligibility, and then the final decision on whether or not an extradition is made is made by the Minister of Justice of the day. On the second part of the question, despite the Czech Republic indicating to the New Zealand Government in 2015 that it had an interest in Mr Sroubek, no formal application for extradition has been made.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Why is the Parole Board aware of an extradition request?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I’m not responsible for the determinations of the Parole Board.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Did the Minister speak with the immigration Minister ahead of the Minister approving residency for Karel Sroubek?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: No.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Was the Minister aware of any controversy around Karel Sroubek before the Minister of Immigration granted residency?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: No, and there’d be no reason for me to have been so.

Hon Mark Mitchell: If officials advise there is sufficient evidence to support an extradition request, will he extradite Karel Sroubek back to the Czech Republic?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: That member will be well aware that it would be entirely inappropriate and not in the public interest for me to comment on any case that may be the subject of an extradition application.

It became a triple whammy.

4. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he believe he has considered all relevant factors in deciding to grant residency to Karel Sroubek, also known as Jan Antolik?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister of Immigration): Shortly before question time today, I became aware that information may exist that appears, on the face of it, to directly contradict information that I used and relied upon to make that decision. I am now taking advice on my options and need to consider the veracity of the new information that has been made available to me.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Did all of those factors include submissions from Czech Republic officials about any statements Mr Sroubek had made relevant to them, and, if not, will he be also asking the Czech officials to provide submissions?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Given the potential new information that I have just become aware of, I do not intend to make any further comment on the information that I was provided. I need to take advice, and I need to carefully consider the way forward from here.

So a commitment by Lees-Galloway to reconsider the residency decision due to new information becoming available.

This issue was already awkward for the Government. It has now become embarrassing. One would hope that a minister would do as much as possible to ensure he had all relevant information before making an obviously contentious decision.

National have called for the Minister to resign over this, but I think that’s a silly overreach. This looks more like a stuff up than anything like a sackable offence. Perhaps sloppy, but probably not a misuse of ministerial powers.

So Lees-Galloway should learn a lesson from this and be a more careful minister in the future.

This is a bit of a blow to Government credibility, but probably isn’t a major. However it reinforces National’s campaign that keeps claiming the Government is soft on criminals.