HOW A FIJI LAWYER EMBARRASSED NEW ZEALAND'S GOFF

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AUCKLAND, New Zealand (January 7, 2000 – New Zealand Herald/PINA Nius Online)---Embarrassing new details about a blacklisted Fijian who slipped into New Zealand reveal he previously popped up under Foreign Minister Phil Goff's nose.

Confidential documents obtained by the New Zealand Herald also raise questions about the effectiveness of measures to prevent alleged supporters of Fiji's May 19 coup from entering New Zealand. These are a central plank of New Zealand's so-called smart sanctions.

Diplomatic cables show that Vodo Tuberi, a legal adviser to coup leader George Speight, caused diplomatic splutters when he "gate-crashed" a June meeting in Suva involving Goff, the New Zealand Herald said.

Five months later, it said, Tuberi was undergoing medical treatment in an Auckland private hospital at New Zealand taxpayers' expense, despite being on an "A-list" of people banned from the country.

Cables, e-mails and faxes show the New Zealand Immigration Service processed and approved Tuberi's three-month medical visitor's visa on October 31. The service said he was not recognized as a banned visitor because his date of birth was not on the blacklist.

But the documents say copies of the list with updated date-of-birth information were forwarded to the service's policy and operational branches on October 26 - five days before Tuberi's visa application was processed.

The papers, obtained by the New Zealand Herald under the Official Information Act, also show that Tuberi was well known to New Zealand diplomats in Suva. He had certainly made himself known to Goff and Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer during their Commonwealth mission to Fiji after the coup, it said.

Goff and Downer had refused to meet Speight representatives. But Tuberi sidestepped security and "ambushed" the ministers' meeting with representatives of the Fijian Opposition party Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei.

The New Zealand Herald claimed Tuberi "abused both Goff and Downer." Later, it said, he appeared alongside Speight at the televised signing of the agreement under which deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and other hostages were released, a cable from the New Zealand High Commission in Suva says.

Tuberi arrived in Auckland on November 5 last year, after Fiji doctors referred him for treatment through a New Zealand aid program.

A Newmarket doctor, Dr. C. S. Benjamin, of Universal Medical and Surgical Care, oversaw the case. By the time officials realized that Tuberi was in the country, he had been booked in for a scan, the New Zealand Herald said.

On November 9, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued urgent instructions that no further treatment would be paid for by the New Zealand government.

"Accordingly, if the scan indicates further treatment is necessary, then it will be up to Mr. Tuberi and/or Fiji to meet the costs involved," the ministry told Dr. Benjamin.

The New Zealand Herald said the scan led to surgery, for which, it is understood, the Fiji government bore the $NZ 16,000 (US$ 7,243.20) cost.

Having dealt with the problem and issued instructions that anyone else on the aid program was to be vetted by ministry staff, officials then turned to the issue of dealing with any media attention.

A November 16 e-mail from the ministry's development division recommended that the media be given the most basic of information, it said.

"Should any media enquiry ensue, the response is that the visa was processed in the normal manner and granted on humanitarian grounds, but that treatment costs are being met by the Fiji Health Department," said the e-mail.

Within days, though, Goff was more forthcoming to the New Zealand Herald.

After publication of the story, ministry officials were still anxious about publicity. "Coverage of the Fiji visitor in the Herald ... may well stimulate further media [or Coalition] enquiries," said an e-mail from an unnamed deputy secretary.

The New Zealand Herald reported this e-mail said: "Unless [the minister's private secretary] advises to the contrary, I think our approach should be to say we have nothing to add to information given by Mr. Goff in the House yesterday ... "

For additional reports from The New Zealand Herald, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/ New Zealand Herald.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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