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.

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS -

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.

CAR­MEN BIRD

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.

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