Answering written questions from CINews regarding the incident, which was highlighted in Saturday’s newspaper, Samuela said airline ground handlers had been advised while the aircraft was on its way to Rarotonga on May 29 that the 27-year-old man would be refused entry to the Cook Islands and would be sent back to his country of origin.
She would not identify which airline had been involved or the aircraft’s port of origin, but added staff had been “very cooperative and professional” in managing the process of sending the man back on the same aircraft he arrived on.
“Airlines have their own processes in place should these types of requests occur,” she said. “The airline managed the process, and he (the gang member) had a return ticket.”
Samuela said she was unable to provide specific information on the nature of the serious crimes the bike gang member was revealed to have committed in the past.
Asked why the man had been allowed to fly to Rarotonga in the first place, she said authorities were unable to stop their citizens from leaving their borders or country without a court order.
“Similarly, with the Cook Islands, we cannot prevent people from leaving our country without a court order.
“But we can prevent a person from entering our borders under immigration law.”
Asked whether immigration officers had to discuss refusing entry with their superiors, or whether they could make their own decisions, Samuela said the Immigration minister (prime minister Henry Puna), had ultimate responsibility for the decision, but delegated it to the principal immigration officer.
“The immigration officers first discuss (these matters) with me and provide evidence and reasoning for the turnaround, and I make the final decision.
“We take these turnarounds seriously, recognising that people have spent money to come here for whatever reason, and this is not taken lightly.”
CINews asked Samuela on what basis decisions were made to turn back people at the border, in view of the fact that in the past, visitors with tattoos signifying membership of two well-known New Zealand gangs, the Mongrel Mob and Black Power, had been sighted on Rarotonga.
“When we have evidence of their criminal convictions and affiliations to groups that I would consider detrimental to the interests of the Cook Islands public - and these may also involve discussions with the police, there will be turnarounds,” she said.
“However, when information is received after the fact, then it is not a turnaround process, as entry has already been permitted.
“Hence the importance of national and regional co-operation between border security agencies in providing information to us. And in turn, we also provide information that may be of interest to them, this includes New Zealand and Australia law enforcement.”
On average, Immigration refused entry to at least 10 visitors a year, Kairangi said.
“These include people who have committed immigration offences in the Cook Islands – for example have overstayed, worked whilst on visitor permits etc, and or committed offences in the Cook Islands that upon sentencing would have resulted in imprisonment of 12 months or more.”