No arrest despite Interpol warning over dealer
Police say they did not have sufficient information to arrest one of the world's most wanted drug dealers while he lived in New Zealand.
A 17-day window was given to police last year to nab Chen Guoming, 48, who was subject to an Interpol Red Notice alert - but he left the country freely.
Chen was eventually arrested earlier this month in Fiji, in a combined effort between police there and a Chinese Ministry of Public Security operation.
New Zealand police who recognised Chen's particular facial features had tipped off Chinese authorities.
He was the mastermind behind a massive methamphetamine operation busted in Suva, Fiji - in 2006 - where enough material to make $700 million worth of meth was found.
Arrests were made in Fiji, Hong Kong and Malaysia but Chen disappeared.
Authorities in several countries said he had multiple identities and may have been able to move in and out of New Zealand for years, unchallenged.
Immigration New Zealand confirmed it now knows Chen arrived here in August 2008 under a fake name and was sprung after applying for New Zealand residency last August under an assumed identity.
Immigration would not discuss the issue further referring inquiries to police. Police Minister Ann Tolley declined comment saying it was an operational issue.
Police spokesperson Grant Ogilvie said they were contacted by Immigration on August 21last year regarding a residency application by Chen who was subject to an Interpol Red Notice.
On the Interpol website Red Notices are their highest alert available for persons "wanted by national jurisdictions for prosecution... Interpol's role is to assist the national police forces in identifying and locating... with a view to their arrest".
Ogilvie said a Red Notice was not sufficient under New Zealand law for a person to be arrested - that would require a warrant from a New Zealand court.
"The information supplied by the Chinese authorities as part of the Red Notice was not sufficient to seek a warrant to arrest from the New Zealand courts for Mr Chen," he said.
He said with the residency application Police assisted Immigration on an investigation into his identity "including liaison with Chinese authorities".
Chen left New Zealand on September 7 and it was "not until some time after he left" that it was proven he was on a false identity.
"Until that point New Zealand Police had no grounds to seek an arrest warrant.... There is no suggestion that Chen was involved in drug activities while he was in New Zealand."
Police were "quite satisfied" that they had dealt with the matter appropriately.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, who has labelled Auckland as a "sin city" hide out for criminals, was surprised by the police response saying there were two ways for authorities to view Red Notices.
"One is turn a blind eye, or second, go and get a warrant," he said.
"I think it's the former and it is a bit alarming."
Peters was foreign minister at the time of the 2006 drug bust in Suva.
He recalled growing concern among authorities across the Pacific about what might have been going on in the transnational crime area in the South Pacific. Had it been any other Pacific nation than Fiji a lot more attention would have gone into it, Peters added.
"Being in Fiji, we were a bit preoccupied with a coup, it was a bit off the radar...," he said.
Chen is not the first red-flagged Chinese citizen to get into New Zealand. Last year a political scandal broke out around Chinese millionaire Bill Liu, who came to New Zealand while wanted in China on fraud allegations.
He was granted citizenship in 2008 by then minister Shane Jones, despite advice from Department of Internal Affairs that he failed the good character test.
- Fairfax Media