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Details Emerge About Zaoui Assault Cover-Up

Details Emerge About Zaoui Assault Cover-Up

By Kevin List

Last week the Crown argued for NZ's most famous detained refugee, Ahmed Zaoui, to continue a term of indeterminate detention in a penal institution.

Among other things they claimed essentially that they were looking after him well.

Yet, whilst detained in New Zealand penal institutions for the past 19 months Mr Zaoui has been the subject of a number of internal Department of Corrections' investigations related to assaults. And the very existence of these investigations appears to have been withheld from all Zaoui's legal representatives (both former and current).

In fact details of these investigations were only provided to Mr Zaoui's present legal team after their existence was first acknowledged to Scoop reporter Kevin List.

The two internal investigations were sparked by complaints of brutality inflicted upon Mr Zaoui by prison guards in the first two months after his arrival in New Zealand.

One complaint was raised by the spokesman for the North African community in Auckland, Dr Wahib Zaza [ LINK] by email in late January 2003 and laid with then Minister of Immigration Lianne Dalziel.

Meanwhile Mr Zaoui’s lawyer at the time Paul Coates, also asked for an internal investigation into claims that Mr Zaoui was humiliated and thrown against the wall during strip searches. His complaints were received on January 30th and 31st by way of letters.

Dr Zaza's complaint was contained in documents provided to the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee in the Department of Labour's financial review in late 2003. Nobody involved in the Zaoui defence appears to have been aware of the later complaint and investigation until informed by Scoop about it earlier this year.

As is often the practice with complaints of abuse against prison guards, the initial complaints were handled internally in Auckland Prison assisted by Corrections Department Inspectors.

Whilst not involved personally, Philip Hooper of the Office of the Ombudsmen was made aware of the internal investigations in 2003. He is not however investigating a complaint about this particular matter so far as Scoop is aware.

The Initial Assault Investigation

Handling the initial complaints regarding allegation’s of brutality against Zaoui was Auckland (Paremoremo) Prison Principal Corrections Office Neale Howe, Prison Inspector Mr Niuia Aumua assisted.

Despite the fact that Dr Zaza’s was a principal complainant, to the Minister (Dalziel), Dr Zaza was not interviewed in the inquiry. And perhaps more importantly, an interpreter was not present for the interview with Mr Zaoui because – according to the Inspector, who asked for an interpreter, Courts and Police could not find one.

And as Dr Zaza was one of the complainants alleging abuse of Mr Zaoui, the Department decided it would be improper to utilise his skills as an interpreter for an interview with Mr Zaoui.

In a later memo concerning the case to Gren Bell (In Corrections' Wellington Office) from Aumua it was pointed out that other translators were unavailable, "as those who normally did this work would not attend for Mr Zaoui".

This cryptic remark is not further explained unfortunately. It is not known who these interpreters were or when they were asked, or what languages they spoke.

It is clear however that the initial interview would proceed despite the language barriers.

It is not clear from the Department’s edited internal reports (released through the Official Information Act) whether any thought was given to utilising a French translator.

This is also notable as Zaoui informed Mr Aumua that he spoke fluent French and Arabic at the outset of the inquiry, and somewhat ironic in light of the allegations in the New Zealand Herald this year that Zaoui’s French was near perfect when he arrived here.

Most important of all though, while Zaoui’s linguistic understanding of French is debatable– it is agreed that his grasp of the English language was somewhat rudimentary in early February 2003.

Mr Bell says in his report that Mr Aumua, "is of Samoan extraction and is very experienced at dealing with persons who are not conversant with the English language".

To cope with the language difficulties the initial interview relating to the allegations of brutality presumably relied heavily upon these abilities of Mr Aumua.

In this interview Mr Aumua, along with an internal Paremoremo prison investigator were able to ascertain (presumably by speaking slowly, loudly and using hand gestures) that what transpired between Mr Zaoui and the guards in D block had been a "misunderstanding".

According to Mr Aumua's email on the incident to Mr Bell Zaoui had raised his hands in the air in protest about a court hearing being delayed for a week. As he gesticulated he had said "I am not a Taliban. I am not a terrorist. I am just a refugee. "

An officer had taken this as a threat and put Mr Zaoui in a wrist lock.

"The SCO told the officer to let go of Zaoui's arm because Zaoui started crying. The officer stated that he could understand the inmates frustration because of the court case. And his outburst was just his frustration. He also assured us that the wrist lock was not applied fully and was not considered to be C & R (Control And Restraint)."

Despite these assertions and the findings in Principal Correction Officer Howe's initial report a further investigation was then initiated by the regional manager. (Come back for further details of that later in the investigation, the report was finished in May 2003 and referred to the Minister of Corrections Paul Swain in August 2003…)

The Cover-Up - What Happened to the Reports

After only providing edited reports in answer to initial Official Information Act requests from Scoop concerning the assault, Corrections suggested it may be possible to access further information from Zaoui’s lawyers.

When asked to clarify which lawyers received the various reports (Zaoui changed lawyers April 2003) the General Manager, Public Prison Service, Phil McCarthy replied.

“The investigation was commenced after two letters of complaint from Paul Coates, Mr Zaoui’s former solicitor. Mr Coates was aware that an investigation had been commenced and it was clearly anticipated that a copy would be sent to him at the completion of the investigation despite no formal request from him. It was also one of the recommendations in the final report that a copy be sent to him. Unfortunately, as Mr Coates was by then no longer acting for Mr Zaoui, the matter was overlooked.”

Also overlooked were Mr Zaoui’s current legal counsel, Richard Mcleod and Deborah Manning, who only became aware that there had been any reports relating to alleged mistreatment of their client when contacted recently by Scoop.

A large package of documentation related to the matter was received by Mr Zaoui's lawyers last week, only days before the High Court proceedings relating to his continued incarceration in NZ Penal Institutions.

Today the Ombudsmen’s Office confirmed that they had also received copies of the internal reports on the assaults late last year.


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