9 Jul 2015

Dishonest immigration advisers face "no consequences"

5:33 am on 9 July 2015

Rogue immigration advisers - responsible for defrauding vulnerable clients of thousands of dollars - have not paid a cent of the hundreds of thousands of dollars they were ordered to repay.

At least one has skipped the country owing $100,000 and another, who faced complaints of systematic dishonesty and attempted sexual exploitation of clients, has an outstanding bill for more than $150,000.

The Government is now writing off $350,000 for debts it says are uneconomic to pursue.

One of them is Alungamonu Tangilanu, who was ordered to pay $109,000 in penalties, costs and compensation in 19 complaints upheld by the Immigration Advisers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal, but has now left the country without paying.

Ms Tangilanu has not lodged appeals in time for clients to remain in the country, or made them overstayers when they thought they had submitted applications to remain.

Malupo Moala who has been victim of a rogue immigration adviser.

Malupo Moala who has been victim of a rogue immigration adviser. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Malupo Moala, whose family was a victim of Ms Tangilanu, said they had still not settled their residence case after eight years, and that started with her actions.

"I truly believe that we would have been accepted if she had been doing the right thing, sending in the right stuff," said Mr Moala.

Their lawyer Richard Small said her actions had serious repercussions.

Immigration lawyer Richard Small.

Richard Small Photo: SUPPLIED

"It's had a devastating impact. They've lost their whole pathway to residence here in New Zealand and are now at risk of being separated from their New Zealand-citizen child and being sent back to a situation of poverty and risk in Tonga."

He said Immigration NZ and the registrar were both aware of concerns before she was licensed and he was referring the case to the auditor general.

"She was given effectively a licence to defraud and misrepresent," Mr Small said.

Another adviser, Hakaoro Hakaoro, went to prison for his actions, though he is now out and has also not paid any compensation.

He was jailed for 20 months for providing immigration advice without a licence.

He discussed sexual matters, including his sexual exploits with clients, and said that he would arrange for clients to be deported if they were not compliant.

Mr Hakaoro's wife told one complainant she should enter into a sexual relationship with Mr Hakaoro, and move into their house to carry out domestic duties.

In another case he passed the passports of a family, who had complained about him, to an Immigration New Zealand compliance officer and told him to deport them - as it was convenient for him to have them deported.

Tribunal admits non-payment means "no consequences"

The tribunal has acknowledged in its decisions that such was the level of non-payment there would be "no consequences" with any penalty it imposed.

In the last case against her in May, the tribunal noted her "lamentable" history and stated that given she had not paid previous penalties, and had left the country, and there would be no consequences of any penalty it imposed.

Concessions made by the tribunal in terms of penalties and costs that were not imposed against her - because of her inability to pay - amounted to $44,000.

It said the registrar, Catherine Albiston, had not bankrupted Alungamonu Tangilanu nor taken other action as she considered it was uneconomic to incur further costs with virtually no chance of recovering the $109,000 she owed.

Ms Albiston said Ms Tangilanu was not stopped at the border, because that was something that would happen only in what she called exceptional circumstances.

But said the $350,000 being written off by the Government did not wipe her debt, or other people's.

"That's for accounting purposes and that write-off does not affect the fact that she owes the money and it does not stop us from pursuing recovery of that money. It doesn't stop complainants from pursuing recovery of the money owed to them," said Ms Albiston.

But Richard Small said that was not a realistic option for her victims, many of whom had been deported.

"They had avenues to keep her here and some of these families could have received some token of redress," said Mr Small.

But Catherine Albiston stressed they could pursue immigration advisers for fines in the same way criminal offenders could be made to pay their fines - and that included pursuing them overseas.