An award-winning journalist whose reporting on a murder and corruption investigation got her deported from Malaysia has been prevented from boarding a flight to New Zealand, even though she has been back to Malaysia since

Immigration authorities have barred an Australian journalist working for Al Jazeera from entering New Zealand because of her work uncovering a corruption scandal in Malaysia.

Australian journalist Mary Ann Jolley was deported from Malaysia in 2015 after she investigated a corruption scandal and murder linked to former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. 

Jolley’s deportation notice hasn’t prevented her from visiting the United Kingdom, the United States or Malaysia itself, but it’s a no-go for New Zealand Immigration who barred her from boarding a Qantas flight in Sydney last week.

Jolley had planned to attend a friend’s birthday party in Auckland. 

“I was not allowed to board a flight to New Zealand and I tried every which way with the New Zealand Immigration to say ‘what’s this about? Last time you let me in the country I showed you the documentation. Why am I being barred?” Jolley said.

The journalist’s 2015 deportation by the Malaysian government was televised in an Al Jazeera documentary on the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu. 

“I’ve just been told I’m on a ‘bad list’,” Jolley said to-camera during the documentary. She reported that Malaysian authorities had told her she had not committed any crime, but would be deported.

‘I’m basically regarded in New Zealand as a criminal’

Jolley followed up her case for entry into New Zealand with a frantic series of emails and phone calls to immigration and consular officials at Sydney airport as her plane readied for departure last week. 

The final word came from the office of Associate Minister of Immigration Poto Williams who redirected Jolley’s query to INZ. 

“I am advised that, in order to resolve your situation you would have to apply to Immigration New Zealand for a special direction for future travel to New Zealand, and attach all relevant documents for assessment by Immigration Officials,” a staffer for Williams wrote in an email to Jolley. 

Jolley’s investigation alleged former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (pictured) had a part to play in the assassination of a Mongolian translator. Photo: APEC 2013

Jolley said didn’t understand why she should be barred from entering New Zealand, or have to make a plea for a “special direction”, given the changed situation in Malaysia.

She also routinely carried documents from the Malaysian government that explained her deportation. 

Those documents got her into New Zealand with very little fuss during the Christchurch terror attacks, but did not work with officials this time, she said. 

Investigative journalist seen as criminal

“I’m basically regarded by New Zealand as a criminal,” Jolley said. 

“I just want it cleared, I wasn’t deported because I committed a crime,” she said.

Nicola Hogg, general manager border and visa operations for INZ, said Jolley was granted a “special direction” at the border last year, but was told then that she would need to obtain one before she entered New Zealand next time. 

Jolley had no memory of any such warning from INZ. 

Under New Zealand law the Malaysian government’s deportation of Jolley will have long-term consequences for how she enters the country.

Section 15 of the Immigration Act does not allow the entry of a person “who has, at any time, been removed, excluded, or deported from another country”. 

INZ’s website noted that Immigration NZ “is not obligated to consider special direction requests or to give you reasons if the special direction is not granted”. 

Immigration lawyer Alastair McClymont said Jolley would need to apply for a special direction every time she entered New Zealand, even after she made her case the first time.

However, if she was approved once further approvals would “likely be a formality subject to any other adverse circumstances that may arise”, McClymont said.

Jolley said having to apply for a special direction every time would legitimise the actions of the previous Malaysian regime’s action of deporting her. 

“I’ve been back to Malaysia numerous times since then. I’m clearly not a problem anymore. It was back in 2015,” Jolley said. 

“I just assumed that they’d see it was not an issue because I’d given them all of the documentation,” she said.

The murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu 

Jolley’s investigation linked former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to the death of Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu and an allegedly corrupt submarine deal. 

Two men, former police officers Azilah bin Hadri and Sirul Azhar, were convicted of Shaariibuu’s murder.

Both were former bodyguards of Razak.

Hadri made a statutory declaration at the end of last year that confessed to his role in Shaariibuu’s death, but also implicated Razak in the killing.

Shaaribuu was the translator and girlfriend of Razak’s close advisor Abdul Razak Baginda. 

Baginda was involved in an allegedly corrupt $2b submarine deal. Photo: Getty Images

Shaaribuu reportedly tried to blackmail Baginda over alleged kickbacks related to a US$2b deal to purchase Scorpene submarines from French-Spanish company Armaris.

Hadri alleged that Razak, who was deputy prime minister at the time, asked him to kill Shaariibuu and described the proposed assassination as a national security operation. 

“The DPM [Deputy Prime Minister Razak] instructed me to carry out a covert operation when I return to Kuala Lumpur later,” Hadri said in his statutory declaration at the end of last year.

“The DPM stated that this (matter) could not be publicly known as it was a threat to national security. The DPM then instructed me to carry out a covert operation to arrest and destroy the spy secretly and destroy her body using explosives,” he said.

“I asked the DPM what he meant by ‘arrest and destroy the foreign spy’ and he responded: ‘Shoot to kill,’ indicating a “neck cut signal’.”

An article in French newspaper Liberation said Shaariibuu was shot twice in the head and carried into the woods, where military-grade explosives were then wrapped around her legs, abdomen, and head.

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