Dotcom residency revelations put Harre in a tricky spot
UPDATE: Jonathan Coleman, the Minister of Immigration at the time of Kim Dotcom's residency application, has denied applying political pressure.
Mr Dotcom has long maintained his residency was fast-tracked, over an initial SIS objection, as the US leaned on NZ cabinet ministers, who in turn applied pressure to Immigration NZ.
The accused pirate was born in Germany, which a more limited extradition treaty with the US. His theory is that authorities wanted his NZ permanent residency application fast-tracked to smooth to way for his arrest and extradition.
"The residency decision was made by Immigration New Zealand (INZ), not by me as Minister of Immigration," Mr Coleman said in a statement. He was informed after the decision was made under the "no surprises" policy.
Mr Dotcom was granted citizenship in November 2010, shortly after the SIS dropped its objection.
Documents released under the Official Information Act include an email exchange between the SIS and Immigration NZ. One message in the thread, from October 22, draws attention to a query from Immigration NZ deputy chief executive Nigel Bickle over the holdup of Dotcom's application. "Apparently there is some 'political pressure' to process this case," the email says.
The statement from Mr Coleman says the email conversation between SIS and Immigration NZ staff has been misinterpreted.
"The reference to 'political pressure' was an interpretation of a conversation that took place between NZSIS and INZ staff almost four years ago," he says.
"After the amount of time that has elapsed it is impossible to know whether this is an accurate reflection of comments that were made."
Mr Coleman adds that the business migration scheme was launched in 2009 after the government identified attracting the right business migrants a a high priority initiative.
"The government was very interested in updates on the policy and INZ provided progress reports on the amount of money invested regularly," he says. There was a focus on processing applications quickly under the scheme, which fast-tracked permanent residence to people willing to invest $10 million or more in NZ.
"It appears that the government interest in the success of the policy may have been misconstrued as political pressure," Mr Coleman says.
EARLIER: The SIS dropped its objections to Kim Dotcom obtaining residency in October 2010 following political pressure, the NZ Herald reveals today.
The paper draws on documents it obtained under the Official Information Act with the help of a privacy waiver from Mr Dotcom.
The revelation backs Mr Dotcom's long-held conspiracy theory that the FBI and US Department of Justice wanted him to be granted NZ residency — the idea being that it would then be easy to arrest him and extradite him to the US, given he was a German national and Germany a more limited extradition treaty with the US (of course, the extradition part has proved more fraught than they anticipated, none the least because the GCSB broke the law by surveilling Mr Dotcom after he was made an NZ resident).
The situation is complicated by correspondence that indicates a second or alternative motivation for pressuring the SIS to change its mind: according to emails relaying his views second-hand, then Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman acknowledged Mr Dotcom was under suspicion but wanted him let into the country as a "high roller", or someone who could invest $10 million or more to gain entry under the Residency Plus scheme (as Mr Dotcom subsequently did).
As an SIS email casually sums things up in an email to Immigration NZ requesting a hold on his application, "It seems Dotcom is quite a bad but wealthy man. However the FBI have come back to us and are looking to do a joint op with New Zealand Police."
Harre would not have let Dotcom in
Allegations that Mr Coleman politically interfered with Dotcom's application deserve examination scrutiny (Mr Coleman has yet to speak on the issue). And the revelations are another boost to Mr Dotcom's legal team and his forever-delayed extradition case.
But for the political party he founded, the situation is muddier, and it's lead to some convoluted logic from its leader Laila Harre.
Ms Harre told the Herald she "wouldn't have been comfortable" granting Mr Dotcom residency if she'd known what Mr Coleman knew at the time the party founder was granted residency.
But, given he was granted residency, and is now at the centre of new controversy, Ms Harre and the Internet Party are calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the apparent political interference over Mr Dotcom's application.
Ms Harre says the situation transcends Mr Dotcom's case and a constitutional case for all of New Zealand. Still, as an ongoing issue it will be closely tied to Kim Dotcom's case, and the Internet Party has always said it's not a vehicle to promote the internet tycoon's defence. It's a messy one.
Another factor: Mr Dotcom has long maintained that Prime Minister John Key knew about the January 2011 raid on his rented mansion long before it occurred. I suspect he's going to drop some new evidence on that one shortly before the election. If so, once again his case will intertwine inextricably with politics once again, and Ms Harre will find herself on the frontline of campaigning not just for his party, but Mr Dotcom's legal defence.
Today's revelations lend credence to the theories that PM and SIS Minister did know about Mr Dotcom before the raid. If proven, I don't think that'll be a political bombshell. Much of middle NZ probably already assumes the PM is telling a white lie, and it won't move them to support Mr Dotcom. But it should help the party he founded nudge toward the 5% mark.
Two questions for Key — Labour
It's also worth noting the Internet Party doesn't have a monopoly on objection to the government's behaviour over Mr Dotcom's residency application.
Labour associate security and intelligence spokesman Grant Robertson stops short of calling for an inquiry, but says, "The documents released by the Security Intelligence Service include reference to Immigration New Zealand being under 'political pressure' to process Kim Dotcom's residency application in late October 2010.
John Key has two important questions to answer, who was exerting political pressure on officials and why were they doing it, Mr Robertson says.
"The Dotcom affair has always had the fingerprints of National Ministers on it, John Key must finally front up to New Zealanders and explain what he and his Ministers knew and what pressure they were applying. On the surface it looks like more of the same from National - interfering and playing politics with what are meant to be independent decisions.
"Only a couple of hours after being informed of the 'political pressure' being placed on Immigration New Zealand, the SIS lifted their hold on the residency application. A week later Mr Dotcom was granted residency."
The government has never been up front with New Zealanders about the Kim Dotcom affair, Mr Robertson says.
"We have seen evasion, half- truths and misleading statements from John Key and others.
“The documents also indicate that the decision about what to do with Mr Dotcom's residency was heavily influenced by the 'likely' joint operation against Mr Dotcom between the FBI and the New Zealand Police. This raises serious concerns as to whether this decision was being made independently in the best interests of New Zealand."
But rather than crusading for Mr Dotcom, the Labour front-bencher tries to paint it more as part of a pattern of bad behaviour by the government.
"It seems the National government's modus operandi is to inappropriately intervene in the supposedly independent decisions of officials. New Zealanders are owed an explanation once and for all about what John Key and his Ministers knew and why they have acted so evasively on this issue," he says.
POSTCRIPT: This SIS email signature revealed revealed in the OIA docs. Oh dear. Apply the black marker a bit more heavily next time, spooks.