12 Feb 2017

Man who ripped off parishioners loses bid to stay in NZ

6:27 pm on 12 February 2017

A 71-year-old man who defrauded fellow churchgoers out of $875,483 has lost an appeal against being deported to Tahiti.

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Damas Flohr persuaded 10 parishioners to give him money, promising it would unlock more than $30 million overseas. Photo: 123RF

Damas Flohr was sentenced in the Dunedin District Court to four years in prison after admitting seven counts of fraud during his 2013 trial.

Flohr, who has lived in New Zealand on and off since he was 19, appealed his deportation to Tahiti.

He persuaded 10 members of the Dunedin Seventh Day Adventist Church, including the pastor, to give him money.

He promised it would unlock more than $30 million overseas from land deals and a Nigerian oil contract.

One woman gave him more than $300,000. All the money was sent to recipients in China, the USA and Nigeria.

He told the Immigration and Protection Tribunal he was sorry, but acted in good faith.

The tribunal's decision said he was "regretful, sorry and remorseful and has a contrite heart".

He did not spend the money the parishioners gave him. Two of the victims were elderly.

"The appellant still holds a genuine belief in what he did. He only repeated the messages given to him by others."

"He does not believe that the people from whom he took large sums have suffered, as they were well-off financially. He honestly believes that the money he sent will be returned eventually.

"In the meantime he is slowly paying back the money taken, and has paid off a few hundred dollars."

His wife, who said she would accompany him if he was deported, said it was cruel and inhumane to be forced to leave her home country or be separated from her husband of 46 years.

Judge Peter Spiller ruled there were no exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian nature. Deportation would not be unjust or unduly harsh.

The judge said the couple lived in Tahiti for 30 years. They had a son and property there.

He pointed to the sentencing judge's comments that Flohr was at very high risk of re-offending because he still believed the money was in accounts overseas waiting for him and he "manipulated the Christian ethos" of his victims.

The full tribunal decision can be read here.