NZ Customs accused of abusing powers ahead of Blomfield book launch

Felix Geiringer was Matthew Blomfield’s lawyer for part of the Blomfield v Slater defamation proceedings. He has also represented Nicky Hager.

On Twitter today:

NZ Customs have been accused of abusing their powers to discover a book title. The book is being launched by Nicky Hager.

The book is being launched this evening. The details of the book, including its title, have been embargoed until after the launch.

The book has been written by Margie Thomson. Nicky Hager has written the forward and will be speaking at tonight’s launch.

The book is being published by Potton & Burton, the same publisher that publishes Nicky Hager’s books.

On the weekend, someone carrying a manuscript of the book was stopped by NZ Customs while trying to enter New Zealand.

The passenger has asked not to be named at this stage. The following is the passenger’s account of what happened.

“They pulled me and my whole family into a side room and insisted on searching our luggage. At first, I thought it was just a random search, but it became clear to me that the two officers conducting the search were looking for something specific.

“When they found the manuscript they started questioning me about it. They wanted to know what the book was about. I told them the details were embargoed and I could not discuss it, but they wouldn’t let it go.

“They wanted to know the title of the book. They told me they wouldn’t let us through Customs unless I told them. They told me I would receive a hefty fine for refusing to tell them.

“I thought the search was abusive. I had three young girls travelling with me and they became very upset. It was over the top behaviour from Customs.

“I could not understand what the title of this book could possibly have to do with a Customs search. I asked, but they would not tell me. They just kept threatening me with dire consequences if I did not answer their questions.

“I just do not understand. Why were Customs using their powers to find out the title of this book?”

I am not independent of the people behind this book. But I think that NZ Customs have some explaining to do.

It is very difficult to see how the demand for details about this book, including its title, could possibly be a legitimate exercise of Customs’ powers.

If the search occurred as alleged, and these passengers were being detained so that these Customs Officers could pursue an illegitimate line of enquiry about the book then that also brings into question the legality of the detention.

Sounds concerning. Another lawyer has a suggestion:

If it is a manuscript of an unpublished book how can it be on a banned list?

How would NZ Customs know about it and try to find out the title? Unless they say some papers and tried to find out what they were, but that seems very unusual.