Chch man fears 20 years in Philippines jail

05:23, Mar 20 2013
Vernon Wayne Gardiner
TRAPPED: Vernon Gardiner has been refused financial help from NZ authorities.

A Christchurch man detained in a Philippines prison for over a year says he needs only $5000 to avoid languishing in jail for the next 20 years.

Vernon Wayne Gardiner, who has been in Virac Jail for 16 months, was arrested after failing to find a job in New Zealand for a Filipino man, Joseph Diwata, who paid him just under $5000 as a placement fee.

The 66-year-old former Anglican priest was told by his lawyer that the illegal-recruitment charges could see him face up to a 20-year jail sentence.

He said his career as a priest in Australia was derailed by marital issues.

Gardiner, who moved to the Philippines in 2009, said he had previously lined up a job in Christchurch for the man, but it fell through because of the September 2010 earthquake.

The immigration and recruitment agent, who operated his own business in Christchurch, says he did not realise he was required to have a licence to recruit people for jobs in New Zealand.

An agreement was reached in court that the charges would be dropped and Gardiner released if he paid Diwata back the amount he charged.

Gardiner said he had spent most of the money on living expenses.

The New Zealand embassy in Manila contacted Gardiner's estranged sister, who Gardiner said he had not seen in 30 years, to see if she could bail him out.

She said she was not in a financial position to help. Appeals to other friends also failed.

"I've exhausted all the people that I know of. Nobody has really been able to help me," Gardiner said.

He said he had written letters pleading to the New Zealand embassy in Manila, Prime Minister John Key, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, Minister of Justice Judith Collins, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Murray McCully and Minister of Immigration Nathan Guy for help.

He was shocked when all could offer no assistance as he was overseas.

He said he was told that if he was given financial assistance it would set a "precedent" for other Kiwis in the same situation overseas.

"I just thought they might have some compassion. I wasn't asking for a handout; I was asking for a loan that I'd pay back with interest," he said.

Gardiner, who began losing hope of ever leaving the prison, went on a hunger strike in October and again in December last year.

"I wanted to end my life. I saw no future. I'm 66. If I'm going to have to do 20 years in jail I'm not going to do it, I'd rather die," he said.

Judge Lelu Contreras is advocating on his behalf. She has even been lending him her books.

"I'm really surprised. I've never heard of this before, a judge being the way that she is bending over backwards to help my cause,'' he said.

''She also comes out to visit me at the jail. She talks to other inmates as well. I've never heard of a judge visiting a jail and visiting inmates before."

Guards in the prison who learnt of his situation buy him lotto tickets.

"Because that's the only hope I have left," Gardiner said.

His cellmates have also reached out to him, including sharing food given to them by visitors.

"I don't have any complaints. They're very kind to me," Gardiner said of his treatment in the prison.

Contreras has appealed to the New Zealand Government on his behalf for a loan.

"He is not a hardened criminal,'' she said. ''He may even be a victim of circumstances. That is why he was not able to find a job for the private complainant.

"I hope your Government will have a soft heart for him.

"I do not want any of my detainees to die in jail ... worse still, dying because of hunger strike," she wrote in her correspondence.

However, the consular support officer at the New Zealand embassy in Manila, Neville Garven, who has since left, replied that it was the policy of the New Zealand Government not to extend financial assistance to New Zealanders overseas.

"Assistance cannot be provided while he is living outside New Zealand," he said.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade told The Press the New Zealand embassy had been providing regular consular assistance and advice to Gardiner and would continue to do so.

However, he said there were limits to the assistance consular officials could provide, and these included not paying legal fees, fines or bail.

"If New Zealanders are travelling or living in a foreign country they must comply with its laws and regulations,'' he said.

''The New Zealand Government and its officials cannot intervene in the judicial processes and law courts of other countries, just as another country cannot intervene in New Zealand's. Being a New Zealand citizen does not lead to any special treatment."


The Press