Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway admits he may not have had the correct information when he decided to grant a drug smuggler residency.
Lees-Galloway has been facing a barrage of criticism over his decision to allow Czech Republic citizen Karel Sroubek to remain in New Zealand, despite meeting criteria for deportation.
The minister now says information may exist which contradicts the information he had, and relied upon, when he made the decision to grant Sroubek residency.
“This is a very serious matter, as far as I’m concerned, so I am taking advice on what the course of action is at this stage,” he said.
In 2016, Sroubek was convicted for importing ecstasy and was liable for deportation to the Czech Republic.
However, Lees-Galloway said he decided to cancel Sroubek’s liability for deportation.
While neither he nor the Prime Minister would explicitly say why, it was implied Sroubek would be in danger if he returned to his home country.
As well as facing criticism from National for his decision to allow Sroubek to stay, the lack of information and transparency around the decision has also been questioned.
Earlier in the week, Lees-Galloway sent out a statement, saying: “I have determined that the public interest in the case of Karel Sroubek’s residency is deserving of further information.”
He went on to detail the conditions that would allow the former kickboxer to remain in New Zealand.
“For privacy and legal reasons, as is standard practice for all administrations, I can’t disclose the details of this case,” he said.
“I can assure the public that this was a decision taken in full view of the information presented to me, and not a decision that I have made lightly.
However, during Question Time on Wednesday, Lees-Galloway admitted he may not have had the relevant information in the case.
In response to a question from National Party immigration spokesman Michael Woodhouse, Lees-Galloway said he had become aware of new information.
“Shortly before Question Time today, I became aware that information may exist that appears, on the face of it, to directly contradict information that I used and relied upon to make that decision.
“I’m now talking advice on my actions and need to consider the veracity of the new information that has been made available to me.”
He refused to answer further questions in the House, saying he needed to “carefully consider the way forward from here”.
The admission came following a report by Newstalk ZB, which alleged Sroubek had returned to the Czech Republic since the incident that would allegedly have put his life in danger were he to return to his home country.
Immediately ahead of question time, Lees-Galloway pulled a Newstalk ZB journalist aside on Parliament’s tiles – an area set aside for open media questions – for a conversation, which other journalists were not allowed to enter.
When the conversation ended, Lees-Galloway refused to answer the questions of other journalists, saying he would brief the media following question time.
Afterwards, Lees-Galloway faced journalists to say he had become aware contradictory information about Sroubek’s case might exist.
He said he became aware of the information in the news story, “very shortly” before question time – while in the Beehive – and did not have the opportunity to verify the information or seek advice before going into the House.
Lees-Galloway refused to give any further details about what the new information was, or what information he relied upon while making his initial decision. He said he was now seeking advice, working to explore the veracity of the information, and decide on the next steps.
National Party leader Simon Bridges said if Lees-Galloway made the wrong decision, he should resign.
“This is flabbergasting; I think it shows an incompetent and naïve decision.”
Bridges said the minister had not asked the right questions or done the work to verify the information he had been given.
Bridges said the “drug-peddling, fraudster, gangster” should not have been granted residency based on the information at hand.
“I think the position is pretty simple – if Lees-Galloway has been wrong, he hasn’t got the judgment and the skills required in terms of keeping New Zealanders safe with these decisions, he should resign.”