Clean slates let Tongan criminals immigrate

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 05:00 16/02/2013

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Hundreds of Tongans with criminal records may have got into New Zealand on the strength of letters written by senior Tongan police officers declaring they had clean criminal records.

Diplomatic and police sources in the Pacific say the scandal may extend beyond Tonga, to Samoa - where name changing is a common ruse that has allowed at least one convicted murderer into New Zealand - and Fiji, where clearing letters can be corruptly obtained.

Immigration New Zealand said it was "extremely concerned" at a revelation by Tongan Police Commissioner Grant O'Fee, a New Zealander, that his inquiries had identified 33 people given letters declaring they had no criminal records when it was known they did.

The letters were signed by senior police officers.

Tonga still has paper-based court and police records for convicted people and those were now being checked against duplicates of clearing letters as they were located.

Sources said the scam could involve hundreds of names.

Mr O'Fee's predecessor, Dunedin policeman Chris Kelley, put a stop to the false letters, which he believed were being used for job applications, soon after he took up the position in 2008.

He set up an internal investigation into the practice, which seemed to have occurred between 2005 and 2008.

Mr O'Fee said the practice did not seem to involve money but had been approved by an earlier police minister, whom he would not identify but was now dead.

Police ministers over the time involved were Clive Edwards, who remains in Cabinet and Siaosi Aho. Neither could be contacted but Mr Kelley, who worked with Mr Aho, described him as "a man of integrity who would never have approved such a thing".

The only police minister of recent times to have died was the eccentric Noble 'Akau'ola who was the kingdom's official hangman. He also claimed to have uncovered a coup plot against the then king, led, he said, by an angel wearing a computer.

Immigration Pacific regional manager Alan Barry said the department was working with Tongan authorities to get the details of those who might have come to New Zealand as a result of cleansed police records.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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