Drugs and diamonds
Edward Gay and Matt Rosenberg report on the story behind Czech smuggler Karel Sroubek – the man New Zealand can’t get rid of.
Special investigation: The real story of Karel Sroebek
The court rejected the new evidence, describing the story as ‘‘wholly implausible’’.
The man known as Jan Antolik pulled up at the main security gates of the Ports of Auckland.
It was September 2014 and the 1.85m, ripped kickboxer had a shipping container waiting in downtown Auckland. It was a load of juice from the Czech Republic destined for New Zealand supermarkets.
He scanned the main security checkpoint for three minutes before driving over to the second gate and heading off.
What he didn’t know was the police were watching. They knew about him: they knew his real name was Karel Sroubek. And Customs officers had already searched his shipping container.
Inside they found pallets of tetra-pak juice containers. Six of the containers held zip-lock bags containing MDMA ecstasy powder. The drugs had a street value of $375,000.
And the evidence against Antolik didn’t stop there.
Customs officers intercepted a package sent to Sroubek through the post, containing an electric car buffing machine. Concealed inside the machine’s motor were two shipping container seals, one of which had a serial number that closely matched the number on Sroubek’s container.
Later, at his Auckland District Court trial, the Crown argued Sroubek planned to break the Customs seal on the container, take the drugs and reseal it before it was inspected. But Sroubek’s plan was never put into action. He was arrested later that day.
It wasn’t Sroubek’s first brush with the law. Three years before he faced a trial and was found guilty of passport charges.
Sroubek told the court while living in the Czech Republic he witnessed a murder. He was visited by two Czech police officers who tried to convince him to change his evidence. They also threatened to charge him with being an accessory to murder.
Sroubek used a friend’s passport to flee the country and eventually he arrived in New Zealand. Judge Roy Wade believed him. He discharged Sroubek without conviction after he voluntarily did 210 hours of community work.
Sroubek would use the story of the corrupt police officers again.
At his trial for importing drugs, Sroubek told the court he was framed.
He said the timing of the drugs being put in his shipping container coincided with the time the killer would have been released from prison.
His mother, Jarmila Sroubkova, gave evidence about a fraudulent diamond deal she had complained about.
The diamond was bought for Sroubek’s engagement ring but the one supplied was inferior. Sroubkova said she tried to get a refund and got a call from the diamond company’s
boss telling her ‘‘to be careful with [her] decision making’’ and that she and her son ‘‘could end up in jail’’.
She said Sroubek’s container left the Czech Republic a month after the threatening phone call.
The jury rejected the conspiracy theories and Sroubek was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison.
But the case didn’t end there. Sroubek’s lawyer, David Jones QC, took it to the Court of Appeal, asking the court to accept new evidence from a private investigator in the Czech Republic. The investigator said he had proof the diamond dealer had close ties with the local police and Customs authorities.
But the court rejected the new evidence, describing the story as ‘‘wholly implausible’’.
Sroubek maintained his innocence until September 2018, when he told the Parole Board he knew criminals in the Czech Republic who convinced him to smuggle drugs into New Zealand.
The Parole Board said Sroubek was well behaved in prison, had worked on the inside and was low risk of reoffending. However, board convener Judge Phil Gittos, described Sroubek’s responses to questions from the panel as ‘‘self-exculpatory, evasive, long-winded and ... manifestly untruthful when measured against the facts set out in the judge’s sentencing notes and other documentation.’’
This week it was revealed that Sroubek visited the Czech Republic since living in New Zealand. That flies in the face of his later claims he feared for his safety if he returned to the country of his birth.
Court documents show that Sroubek was facing kidnapping and aggravated robbery charges in 2009. He was later acquitted of the charges.
While on bail, Sroubek applied to the High Court in Auckland to ask Justice Christopher Allan for his passport back so he could visit the Czech Republic for business purposes.
Justice Allan allowed Sroubek to travel, given he had taken an earlier trip without incident.
The judge said Sroubek had strong ties to New Zealand – he married a New Zealand citizen in 2016, the couple owned a $1.7 million home in Remuera and he had business interests here.
When Sunday Star-Times visited the house, a ‘‘for sale’’ sign was out front and the letterbox was full.
A news report from the Czech Republic says authorities will seek to extradite him after his release from prison. Interpol says he is wanted on charges relating to an attack on a police officer.
Kickboxer Jan Antolik, whose real name is Karel Sroubek, is a Czech national who was jailed for importing MDMA into New Zealand. While in prison, Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway granted him permanent residency.