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The boss of an Auckland building company – who was living in New Zealand illegally, left, then returned under a new identity – will be charged with immigration fraud.

The man’s Auckland home was searched this morning and he is expected to appear in the Auckland District Court later this week. He is registered as the director of a company identified in Operation Spectrum, an Immigration New Zealand investigation targeting unlawful migrant workers in the construction industry. The man has permanent residency under his alleged new identity in New Zealand and will be the second person to face charges as a result of the six-month inquiry.

A spokeswoman for Immigration New Zealand said more information would be released later today.

The Weekend Herald revealed nearly 200 illegal workers were either deported, fled New Zealand or stopped at the border following the six month inquiry.

Operation Spectrum

• 54 deported
• 36 voluntarily left New Zealand
• 15 served deportation notices (no work visa)
• 85 stopped at border
• 190 people stopped from illegally working in New Zealand
• 0 tax paid

Operation Spectrum also uncovered a weakness in border security whereby 15 people previously deported or who fled from New Zealand were able to return under new identities.

Many of the immigration fraudsters registered companies in New Zealand, then recruited other unlawful workers as plasterers, painters, tilers or carpenters. They worked as third-tier subcontractors, below the radar of developers and site managers. There was little evidence of workers living in poor conditions, or being exploited against their will.

Most were paid just $20 to $40 an hour in cash – paying no tax – so those running the underground crews were able to win contracts by undercutting the prices of legitimate competitors.

“It was common to hear ‘we got paid every Thursday by a man in a black Audi’,” said Alistair Murray, who manages investigations and compliance for Immigration New Zealand. “We are talking significant cash flow, hundreds of thousands of dollars. “So Kiwis are being cut out of jobs. Legitimate Kiwi businesses trying to contract in that market can’t compete with those rates. It’s not a level playing field.”

Immigration New Zealand investigators drew a target list of 10 companies to disrupt the flow of illegal workers from Malaysia, who were responding to advertisements on social media. Staff raided construction sites around Auckland and detained and deported 54 people. On one occasion, at least 20 illegal workers fled and scattered through the streets of Mt Wellington.

“They just scarpered, disappeared when we turned up,” said Murray. “Even on the most simple of sites, it was a massive exercise to do a floor-by-floor sweep with two people blocking each exit. We’d find people hiding in fire exits, stairwells, ceiling cavities. “Or sometimes they were in the middle of plastering a wall and we’d tap them on the shoulder to say: ‘You’ve been here unlawfully for 10 years, time to go home’.”

Another 36 people fled the country before they were caught, while 15 who had visas to live in New Zealand – but not to work – were served with deportation liability notices. On average, the 105 people had each lived here unlawfully for five years. One had been here for two decades.

“They’re living here, enjoying the benefits of New Zealand, cutting legitimate businesses out of work. And not one of them paying tax,” Murray said.

Another 85 would-be illegal workers were stopped at the New Zealand border, or sometimes before they stepped foot on the plane to carry them here. In total, 190 people were stopped over a six-month period. Out of those, Operation Spectrum uncovered 15 who had previously been deported, or fled New Zealand before they were caught, but returned under a new identity.