Restraining order in uni cheating probe

01:50, Mar 27 2014

The High Court has granted restraining orders against eight Auckland properties linked with the business network that ran a university assignment cheating service.

New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) said the properties were owned by Steven Quan Li and his wife Fan Yang, who were associated with the companies at the heart of the investigation into assignment cheating services for the Chinese community in New Zealand.

Assignment4U Consultant, Atan and Ateama, were three of the companies at the centre of the multi-departmental investigation, NZQA said.

Justice Sarah Katz granted the interim restraining orders as there were reasonable grounds to believe significant criminal activity had occurred and Li and Yang had benefited from it, NZQA said.

The restraining orders continued interim orders granted in June last year after police searched premises associated with Ateama, and Li and Yang.

NZQA and police would continue their investigations into allegations of cheating services.

In May last year Fairfax Media reported an investigation had uncovered a well-organised commercial cheating service for Chinese-speaking students in New Zealand.

The longstanding business used a network of tutors, some outside New Zealand, to write original assignments ordered by Chinese-speaking students attending New Zealand universities, polytechnics and private institutions.

The tutors were paid by assignment and had specialist subjects.

The assignments went up to masters level but the service claimed to have tutors up to doctorate level.

The revelation of the cheating service has serious repercussions for the New Zealand international education sector, which earns about $750 million a year from about 93,000 students.

According to the Companies Office, Li is the sole director and shareholder of struck-off company Assignment4U Consultant and Yang is director and majority shareholder of struck-off company Atan.

Pengju Chen is the director of Ateama and Xiaohu Ren is the company's sole shareholder. All three companies are listed at the same Auckland address.

NZQA said the High Court judgment illustrated some of the "difficulties" faced in the investigation.

For example Ateama's servers and computers were moved from one location to another and a preliminary forensic review of a hard drive found numerous references to assignments which had been deleted and overwritten and could not now be restored.

The bank accounts of three companies involved indicated each company had received deposits from third parties with accompanying references such as "assignment" and "essay fee", NZQA said.

Payments from the bank accounts indicated a number of people had received funds on multiple occasions that were consistent with payments to ghost writers, it said.

The properties were under the custody and control of the Official Assignee, as a result of the restraining orders.

Police Asset Recovery Units national manager Detective Inspector Paul Hampton said the High Court's decision demonstrated the "wide reach" of the criminal proceeds legislation.

The case showed the benefits of the police working with other government agencies to eliminate the chance for people to profit from undertaking or being associated with significant criminal activity, Hampton said.

NZQA chief executive Karen Poutasi said a lot of work had gone into the investigations.

"The complexity comes from reconstructing and looking through huge volumes of data spanning numerous parties involved at different levels, with some of that data having been destroyed," she said.