A convicted drug smuggler has been handed an unprecedented get-out-of-jail card: instead of being deported after serving his prison sentence, the Government has granted him New Zealand residency.
Minister of Immigration Ian Lees-Galloway has made a special decision to grant the 37-year-old Czech national residency, even though he came to New Zealand on a false passport and is now serving time in Auckland South prison for importing drugs with a street value of $375,000.
Karel Sroubek fled to New Zealand with a friend's passport in 2003. He claimed he was on the run from corrupt cops after witnessing a murder. Under the name Jan Antolik he built a new life as a businessman, a representative-level kickboxer, and a Hells Angels associate.
When the law caught up with him, he admitted his criminal ties in the Czech Republic – but he seemed unable to escape old habits with several brushes with NZ Police over the past 15 years.
Sroubek has faced several charges, relating to drugs and robbery. But was either acquitted or had his convictions overturned – until he was found guilty of using his drink importation business as a front to smuggle 5kg of MDMA, which is used to make the drug Ecstasy. He was jailed for five years and nine months.
He was refused parole last month: Parole Board panel convenor Judge Phil Gittos said he gave "evasive, long-winded and ... in many respects manifestly untruthful" responses.
Sroubek would have come up for parole again next year, and was to be deported after completing his sentence.
But yesterday, Lees-Galloway confirmed he had granted Sroubek residence subject to "significant conditions," and after careful consideration of all information available to Immigration NZ.
He would not say why he had granted the drug smuggler residency, or reveal the conditions.
"For privacy and legal reasons, I am unable to disclose this information, or comment on specific details of the case," he told Stuff.
"It's not a decision I've taken lightly."
The Minister of Immigration has "absolute discretion" to prevent deportation and grant residence – legally, such decisions cannot be applied for, the minister doesn't have to consider any requests, and doesn't need to explain their reasons.
In 2011, Sroubek was arrested in Operation Ark, a covert investigation into Ecstasy-like pills, less than a week after his trial for entering New Zealand on a false passport.
He later had a conviction for manufacturing Class-C drugs overturned; Sroubek was to stand trial again on an alternative charge of possession for supply, but the prosecution was abandoned.
Sroubek also had gang associations, and was acquitted of an aggravated robbery with two Hells Angels.
The National Party on Sunday called on Lees-Galloway to explain what immigration spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said appeared to be "a disgraceful decision to grant residency to a violent gang associate convicted of importing drugs into New Zealand".
“Mr Lees-Galloway will not say why he made the decision to grant residency, nor what the conditions of his residency are,” Woodhouse said.
"The information I have on this case does not come close to any threshold where special consideration should be given by the minister."
Massey University's Professor Paul Spoonley said he was scratching his head over why Sroubek was given residency.
Considering his serious crimes, and history with the law, if there were exceptional circumstances that warranted keeping here the public needed to be informed about what they were.
"There have to be important reasons why you would not deport, particularly when the person has proven not to be a good character," he said.
"Usually such reasons are that other members of his family would suffer, or that someone would be placed in danger by being taken to their country of origin."
A potential reason along those lines, can be found in the details of Sroubek's 2009 trail for using a false passport – after his true identity was revealed when Czech police called Auckland police looking for him with an arrest warrant.
Sroubek's defence was he'd had an exceptionally good reason for the fraud: he had been threatened by two Czech police officers who wanted him to lie and clear the main suspect in a murder investigation.
Instead, he fled to New Zealand on his friend, Jan Antolik's spare passport. He left a video statement behind, which was later crucial in convicting the murderer.
Crown prosecutors said if that was so, he should have come clean when he arrived in the country.
The Judge gave him a second chance and discharged him without conviction, convinced Sroubek was still in danger from corrupt Czech cops and the man he'd put behind bars.
In December 2017, Sroubek appealed his smuggling conviction, claiming those same people planted the drugs to frame him.
However, the Court of Appeal rejected the appeal concluding the "far-fetched" theory was simply not credible based on the evidence – including the lack of a tip-off, which would be expected in a set-up. – additional reporting Mike Mather.
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