WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A convicted murderer and child molester was able to flee to Brazil while on temporary release from prison because staff didn't contact the man he was supposed to stay with and border officials didn't have a comprehensive system to identify criminals, according to a New Zealand government report released Thursday.
The report highlights a number of embarrassing missteps and shortcomings it says were links in a chain that allowed the escape.
Phillip John Smith flew to Brazil in November under his birth name, Phillip Traynor, while on a three-day release from prison. He brazenly emailed a radio station to describe how he'd plotted his escape. He was recaptured after a week in Rio de Janeiro, when somebody in a youth hostel recognized him from news reports.
He was then deported to New Zealand.
Smith, 41, was sentenced to life in prison in 1996 after he was convicted of sexually abusing a neighbor's son and later stabbing to death the boy's father.
The report describes how Smith made money in prison through fraudulent and legitimate enterprises, the latter of which prison staff allowed to him to pursue.
In 2013 he was able to get a passport because the officials who issue them had no system to identify criminals or people who were not allowed to leave the country, the report said.
Then, the report found, prison staff allowed Smith out on temporary release without requiring him to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet. His sister picked him up but staff from the Spring Hill prison never contacted the man he was supposed to stay with.
His release was part of a program designed to begin rehabilitating him into the community.
"Critically, had the nominated sponsor been contacted by Spring Hill staff before the day of the release to confirm that Mr. Smith was expected to stay with him overnight, then Mr. Smith's planned escape would have been thwarted before it even began," the report said.
Eight hours after his release, Smith walked through customs at Auckland International Airport and onto a plane. There was no border alert for him under either of his names, the report found, again because there was no comprehensive system in place for identifying criminals.
Customs officials said Smith even filled out a required form when he left, declaring he was carrying a little over 10,000 New Zealand dollars ($6,400) in cash.
It took authorities nearly four days to figure out Smith had boarded the flight, the report found.
Justice Minister Amy Adams said in a statement the report highlighted problems in information sharing across the justice system. She said the government agrees with 34 of the report's 39 recommendations and agencies have already made improvements.