Clean records for criminal immigrants

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 16:21 19/02/2013

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There are about 40 Tongans in New Zealand who have had their criminal records wiped in their homeland so that they could get into this country, Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse says.

The number, which included permanent residents and a person with a manslaughter conviction, may rise.

“I am extremely concerned about this situation and have asked Immigration New Zealand to place the highest priority on finding any Tongan nationals who have committed serious crimes and should not be in New Zealand,” said Woodhouse.

He has ordered a freeze on Tongan visa applications until the integrity of the police clearance process can be established.

Last week Tongan Police Commissioner Grant O'Fee revealed Tongan police faked letters to New Zealand immigration authorities saying they had clean criminal records even when they had convictions for serious crime, including manslaughter.

Woodhouse said Immigration New Zealand had completed an initial analysis of 172 names provided by the Tongan authorities and estimate about 40 people may be currently in New Zealand, including some who hold permanent residence.

“The figures are only provisional at this time and more details will be known over the coming days. I am satisfied the Tongan authorities are now doing everything they can to assist in our investigations.”

The majority of people on the list committed only minor offences, but the people who came here were allowed to enter on the basis of incorrect declarations regarding their criminal convictions.

“It is totally unacceptable for anyone to enter New Zealand by providing misleading information and I am taking this very seriously,” Woodhouse said.

“An immediate hold has been put on Tongan visa applications that require a police clearance until INZ can be satisfied with the integrity of the police clearance process”.

Applications for residence and most work visas need a police certificate, but this is not needed for short term visas such as a visitor visa.

Earlier O'Fee, who is a former senior officer in the New Zealand Police, said they were providing Australian, New Zealand and United States authorities with the names of known criminals who had received letters of clean records.

"We are doing everything we can do to cooperate with the authorities in New Zealand and Australia."

O'Fee said they were making an assumption that the letters were written for immigration, but some could have been written to support job applications.

Police have yet to find duplicates of all the letters, but he noted some were marked "FIP" - "for immigration purposes".

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