New Zealand Police said Thursday they have arrested five Chinese men in an international investigation into a people-smuggling and passport and visa fraud ring.
Police arrested the men in the South Island city of Christchurch Wednesday and they appeared in the Christchurch District Court Thursday, said a statement from the New Zealand Police.
One man was remanded in custody and the others were released on bail.
The operation has been carried out with the assistance of officials from Immigration New Zealand, the government immigration agency.
The men faced charges including immigration fraud, dishonestly using a document and making a false statement, and charges relating to people smuggling and being a party to people smuggling.
Detective Inspector Tom Fitzgerald said the charges related to a group of Chinese nationals who allegedly obtained Australian visas to allow other individuals to travel from China to Australia.
"Our investigations have revealed that between 2007 and 2010, some 17 fraudulent Australian visa applications were made by the two principal offenders," Fitzgerald said in the statement.
"The principals have now been arrested, along with associates and other people who were involved in the operation," he said.
"We believe all have been part of an organized criminal group which has been operating for some time."
Fitzgerald said the offending was first brought to the attention of New Zealand authorities by the Australian High Commission in early 2011.
Immigration New Zealand's intelligence, risk and integrity general manager Peter Elms said that people smuggling was an international crime that struck at the heart of border security.
"We have cooperated with the police on this operation and the outcome should serve as a warning to any others who think they can exploit their position in New Zealand to circumvent the border controls of another country," Elms said in the statement.
"While this offending is targeting Australia there could be immigration consequences for those involved. Should those involved be convicted of this crime they will have their immigration status reviewed."
Police enquiries into other related offending were continuing, said the statement.