A Nigerian immigration fraudster used fake birth certificates in an illegal bid to bring five children into New Zealand.
Remi Eme Chukwu arrived in Auckland in January 2007 and was granted visitor permits until he applied for permanent residence in July 2008, after marrying a New Zealand woman. Seven children were named on the 46-year-old's application, five biological and two who were "customarily adopted", as is common in African nations.
Immigration New Zealand investigators - conducting a review of Nigerian cases - noticed irregularities on the birth certificates Chukwu had supplied and then discovered evidence at his West Auckland home that the documents were forged. The search warrant in November 2009 also unearthed a number of academic qualifications in Chukwu's name, including an advanced plumbing certificate which he would have achieved as a 13-year-old.
He pleaded guilty to 10 charges under the Immigration Act, including supplying false information on his residence application, false affidavits, false birth certificates and trying to help immigrants enter the country unlawfully.
Yesterday, Chukwu appeared in the Waitakere District Court for sentencing by Judge Brooke Gibson, who described the identity fraud as serious. However, Judge Gibson noted the attempts were unsuccessful and was convinced by Chukwu's defence lawyer, John Mackey, that a term of home detention would serve as a deterrent to others. The judge sentenced Chukwu to 11 months' home detention, after which, Mr Mackey said, the prisoner would be deported.
Chukwu is the fourth man convicted of immigration fraud after a sweeping review of Nigerian residency applications - but the first to escape a jail term. Operation Naira, which is codenamed after the Nigerian currency, began in 2009 after intelligence from officials in London suggested immigration applications from the West Africans were "high risk", particularly where secondary migration sponsorship was concerned. The wide-ranging probe reviewed 160 cases and exposed the problems New Zealand authorities face combating immigration fraud. More than 40 residency applications were declined and the review is ongoing. Investigators are now turning their attention to those who have already been granted residency or citizenship.
The cost savings from preventing fraudulent secondary migration are significant. "It has been estimated that on average each refugee fraud conservatively costs the Department of Labour $28,550," says a 2010 report. This does not include the "downstream" cost to the taxpayer of legal aid, healthcare, education, state housing, welfare, police and courts.