Officials deny giving Move Logistics chief operating officer Chris Knuth retrospective MIQ approval, as police investigate his arrival.

Chris Knuth says he has worked his way up from forklift driver to run one of New Zealand’s biggest freight operations; he says he “gets the job done”.

So when he decided nearly a year ago that he would move back home from Australia to New Zealand, the MIQ rules weren’t going to get in his way.

Knuth has spoken to Newsroom from the Sudima Hotel MIQ facility at Auckland International Airport. There are many people who want him “nailed to the cross” for illegally jumping the MIQ queue, he says.

But one way or the other, he has now obtained the MIQ space to which his New Zealand citizenship entitled him. “I clearly qualified after four months of trying.”

Knuth had applied unsuccessfully through the MIQ lottery, as an essential worker and on grounds of hardship – after quitting his previous job at Followmont Transport in Queensland and selling his home, he’d been forced to couch-surf at his ex-wife’s home while he tried for permission to move to Auckland.

The perceived inflexibility of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment frustrated him and his new employer Move Logistics, which retained lawyers to seek judicial reviews of decisions to refuse him and executive director Chris Dunphy spaces in MIQ.

But eventually, after two months working remotely in his new role at chief operating officer of the NZX-listed business, Knuth took matters into his own hands. He booked a holiday in Fiji, then skipped through immigration while transiting via Auckland International Airport last Wednesday.

“I read today the police may wish to look into what they state is an illegal arrival on my part in more depth,” he says.

“Is it selfish to want to come back to my country of birth to be close to my daughters, grandchildren and family, including my mum who’s in her 80s? If that’s the definition of being selfish then I guess I qualify!”

Chris Knuth received an MIQ allocation letter on Friday, February 4 – 36 hours after he’d flown into Auckland International Airport and been transferred to Sudima Hotel. Photo montage: Supplied

Police have confirmed they are investigating, after MBIE complained that he has breached the Public Health Response (Air Border Order) Act 2020 by entering on February 2, without an approved MIQ space.

But Knuth argues he now has the appropriate MIQ paperwork – albeit obtained retrospectively. 

On Friday, February 4 – two days after he’d flown into Auckland International Airport and been transferred to Sudima Hotel – he received an email from MBIE asking him to enter his flight details for a place in managed isolation. “Once you have provided those details we will confirm that you have been allocated a space.”

Knuth is interpreting that as granting him approval after the fact – and MBIE has acknowledged the email is open to misinterpretation.

MBIE deputy chief executive Chris Bunny, the head of MIQ, says the letter generates an MIQ voucher for administrative purposes.

“While the wording could have been clearer to reflect this particular situation it does not constitute a retrospective approval,” he says.

“In this instance where a New Zealand transit passenger entered New Zealand without an MIQ voucher and was placed one of our facilities, our system creates a voucher to ensure the returnee can be monitored and tracked while in isolation or quarantine, and to ensure the returnee is charged a fee for the use of their room.

“This is not a retrospective approval, rather it is simply the way we manage and record information related to people in our facilities.”

Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins declined to comment while the matter is being investigated by police.

Knuth could face a court-imposed fine of up to $4000. In some situations, intentional non-compliance with the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 could risk prosecution and the possibility of a conviction, officials say.

But Move Logistics is standing by its man. Chris Dunphy says: “MBIE will be well aware that they are on the wrong side of public opinion.”

Knuth is a New Zealand citizen, who grew up in Hamilton and has worked for top freight companies including Mainfreight and Toll, but has lived and worked in Australia for most of the past 22 years.

His arrival placed border officials in an awkward conundrum: once he had landed in Auckland, as a New Zealand citizen, he could not be made to leave again. So he has been placed for 10 days in the MIQ facility, while the police consider their next move.

According to Dunphy, thousands of other New Zealanders will probably follow his lead.

Dunphy, too, also been stuck in Australia for three months, trying in vain to get an MIQ slot to return to Christchurch to run the company. The company has retained respected lawyer Jacque Lethbridge, of Martelli McKegg, to seek a judicial review.

She was the lawyer who successfully challenged MBIE’s rejection of an MIQ exemption application for Rich Lister Murray Bolton. In November, Bolton won the right to travel to the US by private jet then self-isolate at his Herne Bay home afterwards. 

Bolton spent several hundred thousand dollars funding the legal action, and said afterwards that he was relieved at MBIE’s backflip, but angry at being forced to seek recourse through the courts which most ordinary New Zealanders could not afford.

Newsroom Pro managing editor Jonathan Milne covers business, politics and the economy.

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