SYDNEY – The New Zealand government was awaiting a report Wednesday concerning an Auckland-based academy for troubled Japanese youths where a student was found dead last week, according to a government spokeswoman.
The report has been compiled by education, immigration, employment and health officials.
A top-level inquiry began Monday after Nozomu Shinozaki, 22, from Yokohama was found dead Feb. 26 at the Columbus Academy in West Harbor, West Auckland. He had sustained head injuries.
Nine students at the performing arts academy, all aged between 17 and 26, have been charged with assault and kidnapping. The academy’s 49-year-old director, Katsuo Kanamori, has been accused of attempting to obstruct justice by allegedly telling his students not to cooperate with police.
The academy, which opened in 1995, is not registered as an education facility and government agencies were not aware of its existence until last week.
Shinozaki entered New Zealand as a visitor, without a visa, in 1997, Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel said.
He was subsequently granted permits to study at two government-approved education institutions, she told parliament Tuesday. His student permits had expired before he died.
Eight of the nine students charged over Shinozaki’s death arrived without visas, Dalziel said. The other had a working holiday visa.
“(They) applied and were granted student permits for approved institutions, none of which were the Columbus Academy,” she said.
Inquiries thus far indicate that the students were attending the institutions, she said.
The Waitemata District Health Board was contacted about “possible major human rights concerns” at the academy last year, after a student was treated for mental health problems, the New Zealand Herald reported Wednesday.
But patient confidentiality prevented the board from providing details on the student, who has since returned to Japan, the newspaper said.
The academy is a nonprofit group that was established in Yokohama in 1989. It also has facilities in Canada and Australia.
It currently has about 50 students in Auckland who live either in academy dormitories at its West Auckland properties or at home stays around the city.
The students study at local high schools, private language institutions or universities. Some work at the academy’s two Japanese restaurants, one of which is in central Auckland and the other in suburban Henderson.
The restaurants have been closed since the weekend.
The Employment Relations Service is investigating the restaurants over possible breaches of minimum-wage rules, holiday pay and issues relating to minimum standards, the paper said.
It noted the academy was inspected four times last year by the Waitakere City Council, which had received complaints about overcrowding, but no problems were unearthed.
A 1998 Education Review report states that the academy catered to the “lost souls” of the Japanese education system, the Herald said.
It quoted Kanamori as saying the academy offered students a “sense of escape, time out and the chance to experience childhood” and was a “place of respite” rather than a private school, according to the newspaper.
None of the 10 Japanese suspects entered a plea. They have all been released on bail and are under supervision and a 24-hour curfew until their next court appearance, on March 13. Further charges are expected to be filed, according to investigators.
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