Editorial: Just passing through?

Last updated 05:00 28/08/2013

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OPINION: Old folk singers call it "travelling wrong".

Three men who have been doing exactly that have been sentenced in Queenstown on separate dishonesty charges. Two have been rendered stationary by jail time and the other, well, he's a naughty schoolboy.

Reuben William Wikitera, 18, of Dickson College in Canberra, went on a shoplifting spree that his lawyer depicted as an attempt to show off to his peers. But the discovery of a stash of goods, which police termed an "Aladdin's cave" of clothing, jewellery, greenstone and ski goggles, was not all that left Judge Kevin Phillips unimpressed.

From his demeanour in the dock, and his "consistent" lies that most of the stash had been paid for, or gifted, the judge detected an arrogant young man full of self-importance. Cue a $1700 fine and he's out of here.

Still, we should remember that this is a teenager - seemingly one who is a good deal less worldly than he appears to think. Whereas Mexican backpacker Marco Antonio Lopez-Castro can hardly blame the follies of youth for his court appearance. The 31-year-old sustained a year-long spree of credit card fraud that was all the shabbier because the victims were people who befriended him, or whom he befriended.

He even went as far as telling one not only that he loved her, but that he was dying and needed to borrow more money for medical bills. Particularly unlovely lies. Although she had no funds herself, she borrowed to help him.

Again, Judge Phillips looked in vain for evidence of sincere remorse, finding instead a man who was sorry only for himself, for getting caught. The judge sentenced him to six months' prison, after which he will be deported to enhance some country other than our own.

Then there was Chin Tag Gan, a Singaporean computing professional who ran a "meticulously planned" bus pass scam against NZSki, using forgeries printed overseas. He was caught in a sting, with fake tickets with an estimated street value of more than $23,000, and the best estimate from police is that by then he had taken in $1600 to $2000. Yet again, the judge set aside the defence's assertions of remorse and shame, instead detecting the arrogance of a man who looked upon himself as unbeatable.

Clearly there are some visitors to New Zealand who have us tagged as a soft target. Hopefully these latest sentences will help change that view. As David Lange famously said: you come to our place, you wipe your feet.

But to highlight that message, maybe we should be looking at even longer prison sentences, bigger fines, and perhaps also re-examining the ease with which people, especially in the Queenstown area, seem to be getting diversion by making donations to selected charities.

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Seen on a map, New Zealand tends to strike people as a far-flung place and - we tend to encourage this - a benign one. To those with dishonest tendencies, maybe a place where even if things go a bit wrong, what's the worst that can happen?

In truth, to steal as a tourist is to hazard a lot. More, even, than fines and jail time. Given the inter-connectedness of communications nowadays, people can be sure their sentences, once reported, will be out there for the rest of the world to see. We've had a requests from people to remove reports of their offending from our website because it's affecting their opportunities to get employment.

Haven't.

Shan't.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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