Tereora College head of maths Ngatokotoru Puna, a nephew of prime minister Henry Puna, was detained at Auckland airport for failing to meet the repayment requirements on his more than $100,000 student loan.
The 40-year-old has lived in Rarotonga since 2004, and received a $40,000 student loan towards his Bachelor of Arts, which he gained in New Zealand 20 years ago.
But Puna’s loan has now ballooned to $130,000 after he did not make the repayments.
CI News understands Puna has been in New Zealand attending a maths conference.
A New Zealand Inland Revenue spokesman said its powers to arrest Puna at the border were used as “a very last resort,” and followed strenuous efforts to contact Puna and make repayment arrangements.
Puna has become the first person to be arrested over a student loan debt, and described his arrest and time in jail as “the worst experience of my life.”
He appeared before Judge Charles Blackie in the Manukau District Court yesterday morning, and apparently made a $5000 payment which allowed police to return his passport to him so he could leave the country.
But CI News understands Puna’s wife Diane, who remains in Rarotonga with their five daughters, said IRD had not been sending letters to the right address.
Puna told the New Zealand Herald he was unable to make the repayments due to a $300,000 mortgage and being on a local teaching salary of only $30,000.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration secretary Tepaeru Herrmann said the Cook Islands Consulate in Auckland provided assistance to a Cook Islands resident who was waiting to board a return flight to Rarotonga.
The ministry liaised with Puna’s family and consular staff visited him as soon they heard of the arrest and gave him options for possible legal representation.
However Puna had decided not to use a lawyer yesterday due to her high fees.
Prime Minister Henry Puna’s press secretary Trevor Pitt said he would speak to the Prime Minister when he returned from overseas before issuing anything official.
The Prime Minister was due back from Abu Dhabi yesterday.