Immigration scandal sinks David Cunliffe’s leadership hopes

Labour party leadership hopeful David Cunliffe could find his hopes for the top job sinking for the same reason Shane Jones didn’t stand – their links to a major immigration scandal.

Cunliffe – now standing against David Shearer in a race for the Labour party leadership – has never answered questions about why he went against official advice, and allowed a Labour party campaign donor under criminal investigation to remain in New Zealand.

While media commentators speculated that a hotel TV porn channel scandal prevented Shane Jones from seeking the leadership, it’s understood the real reason is that Jones – like Cunliffe, went against officials advice and allowed wanted criminal Yang Liu to be given New Zealand citizenship. Like Cunliffe, Jones has never answered questions on the case.

Widely tipped as a future Labour leader, Shane Jones decided last weekend not to stand. This story from Investigate magazine this year on both leadership contenders spells out the reasons that David Cunliffe’s bid for the leadership is now dead in the water as well:

BORN: 3 September 1959
MARRIED: Seven children
SINS: Media fixated on his decision to watch hotel porn, over and over and over again. Much bigger issue, however. is whether a man of the character below could ever be a credible cabinet minister, let alone a future Prime Minister. Can a Minister who overrides the advice of independent officials on an issue as serious as the criminality of a Labour party donor, ever be trusted in full public office again?

THE KRYPTONITE: Investigate TGIF Edition, November 21st 2008, “Corrupt or Incompetent?”

The career of high-flying Labour MP Shane Jones looks dead in the water tonight with revelations he awarded citizenship to a Chinese migrant despite an explicit official warning that the man was still under an ongoing “criminal investigation” by NZ authorities.

The revelations are contained in devastating new documents released on the former Minister’s decision to grant citizenship to Labour party political donor and wanted Chinese criminal, Yang Liu.

Additionally, it’s just been revealed that Labour’s then Ethnic Affairs Minister Chris Carter also lobbied in favour of Yang Liu, after receiving a $5,000 donation.

TGIF Edition and Radio Live News have been given a copy of the file that Associate Immigration Minister Shane Jones considered before deciding to award the Chinese businessman citizenship back in August.

The Internal Affairs Department file, released under the Official Information Act tonight and slugged “Confidential”, shows Jones was explicitly warned by his Department that Liu – real name Yongming Yan – was still under “active…criminal investigation” at that moment, and that the citizenship application should be “DECLINED”.

In a covering letter to the Minister, Geoff May of Internal Affairs wrote on 14 July this year:

“The applicant does not clearly meet…the good character requirement” of the Citizenship Act. Mr Liu remains the subject of an Interpol wanted to arrest in China ‘red notice’ for allegedly committing serious financial fraud…Mr Liu remains the subject of an active Immigration New Zealand Fraud Branch criminal investigation concerning his true identity.

“It is alleged that Mr Liu has fraudulently obtained and used Chinese identity documents relating to another identity including obtaining two false passports. An Immigration New Zealand search warrant has been executed to seize Mr Liu’s Chinese passports and other identity documents which were held by the Department of Internal Affairs whilst his application was being processed. As a result of the seizure of his passport Mr Liu claims he is ‘stateless’ although he has provided no evidence to support his belief.

“On two separate occasions Hon Dover Samuels MP has written to you in support of Mr Liu’s application. Hon Pansy Wong MP has written to you in support of Mr Liu’s application. Hon Chris Carter, Minister for Ethnic Affairs has written in support of Mr Liu’s application.”

Particularly difficult for Labour MP and Newstalk ZB commentator Shane Jones to explain is the next paragraph in the Internal Affairs briefing paper, suggesting Yang Liu had set off multiple crime alarms:

“Despite remaining under multi-agency inter-governmental investigations Mr Liu has requested that you consider his application at this time,” wrote the IAD’s Geoff May. “It is considered that Mr Liu does not meet the good character requirement and is not eligible for the grant of citizenship.”

Why was Liu so keen for his application to go before a Labour cabinet minister ahead of the election, even given the mounting evidence against him, and why was Liu seemingly so confident his citizenship would be granted? These are questions TGIF Edition would like to ask Labour’s Shane Jones, but he refuses to take our calls.

When former Prime Minister Helen Clark was questioned on the campaign trail about the Yang Liu case, she was quick to reveal the man wanted in connection with a quarter-billion dollar fraud [the Internal Affairs documents wrongly identified only a fraction of the total amount] in China had donated $5,000 to Labour’s Ethnic Affairs Minister, Chris Carter. But Clark was quick to add that Liu had donated to National as well. Clark did not disclose to the press gallery that Carter had also written a letter of support on Liu’s behalf this year.

Despite the political show of support for Liu behind the scenes, the Internal Affairs Department issued a recommendation that cabinet minister Shane Jones could not have failed to see:

“It is recommended you DECLINE [their emphasis] the grant of New Zealand citizenship to Mr Yang Liu.”

Right below it, however, Jones crossed out the bold capitalised word “DECLINED” and instead ticked the box “APPROVED”. Just three days later, the man’s citizenship was conferred in a special ceremony at parliament giving him an official New Zealand identity under a false name, Yang Liu.

But that’s just the covering document. The larger file sent to Jones, accompanying the recommendation to “DECLINE”, was even more damning.

Internal Affairs notes that “It is alleged he misappropriated a significant sum of money in China by entering into a false contract in 2000 using one of his companies. According to the Chinese in 1999 he stole another person’s identity by falsely registering their birth. He then used this deception to obtain two false Chinese passports.

“Immigration New Zealand is actively investigating Mr Liu on the basis that he may have entered New Zealand under a false identity…however, at this time Mr Liu remains a permanent resident of New Zealand despite remaining under investigation by the Immigration Fraud Branch.

“The Jilin Public Security Bureau of the Chinese government considers that Mr Liu is actually ‘Yongming Yan’ and that in 1999 he took another person’s identity (‘Yang Liu dob 20 October 1972’) by registering a fake household birth register. It is suggested that he subsequently obtained two Chinese false passports in this false identity. The Department cannot be satisfied that Mr Liu is living in New Zealand and has applied for New Zealand citizenship under his true identity.”

What is interesting is that the Internal Affairs briefing paper to the Minister of Internal Affairs reveals that Yang Liu had some kind of direct line of communication with the Labour cabinet:

“Mr Liu has written that he will petition you [the Minister] directly if any supporting evidence becomes available before his application is considered.”

The Ministerial briefing concludes:

“What is known is that Mr Liu remains wanted and subject to arrest in China, is unwilling to resolve the Interpol red notice matter, [next clause deleted by Internal Affairs], is under active investigation by Immigration New Zealand and has allegedly obtained and used false identity documents.”

With Associate Immigration Minister Shane Jones on clear notice that the applicant before him was still the subject of an active criminal investigation by NZ authorities, serious questions arise as to why the Minister overrode his officials and awarded the Labour party campaign donor citizenship, without waiting for the outcome of the criminal investigation.

POSTSCRIPT, APRIL 2011: Yang Liu is now awaiting trial on criminal charges in New Zealand as a result of the Investigate TGIF Edition stories. Shane Jones has never answered questions about his role, and the Press Gallery have failed to probe him on it.

BORN: 1963
MARRIED: Two children
SINS: Not many, but for one biggie – the same scandal that has sunk Shane Jones. Although less information has been revealed on Cunliffe’s role in the Yang Liu corruption investigation, we do know Cunliffe also had the chance to deny the Labour party donor residency, and chose not to – apparently against the explicit advice of his officials. Could David Cunliffe, regardless of his personable qualities, ever be trusted to make the right judgement call as a future Prime Minister? Just as in Jones’ case, time does not dull the seriousness of this scandal. Jones and Cunliffe both have aspirations to the highest office. Both are yet to answer questions on their actions.

THE KRYPTONITE: Investigate TGIF Edition, 5 December 2008

Labour leader Phil Goff is in lockdown mode tonight as the Yang Liu citizenship scandal threatens to engulf his front bench, with another top Labour MP dragged into the controversy tonight.

Goff has been considering three questions from TGIF Edition since midday, but at 5pm his chief media advisor Gordon Jon Thompson revealed the Labour leader was choosing to stay silent.

The reason for Goff’s silence is simple: the New Zealand Immigration Service has now implicated former Immigration Minister and Labour front-bencher David Cunliffe in the growing scandal surrounding Yang Liu’s donations to the Labour Party and the government’s subsequent decision to award him citizenship.

The addition of David Cunliffe, Labour’s former Minister of Immigration, to the list of those who were tipped off about Yang Liu’s criminal record and who failed to act, means that Phil Goff’s talent pool is now being seriously compromised by the scandal.

TGIF Edition sought copies under the Official Information Act of the file that went to Associate Immigration Minister Shane Jones that “discussed the option of revoking the permanent residency of Yang (Bill) Liu”.

Jones, as Associate Immigration Minister, was presumed to have seen immigration files on Yang Liu, in addition to his role as delegated Internal Affairs Minister. It was in that latter role that Jones gave Liu New Zealand citizenship, against the explicit warnings of officials who told him Liu’s identity was believed fake and that his citizenship application was fraudulent.

Internal Affairs sources have told TGIF that a recommendation also went to the Minister of Immigration recommending Liu’s permanent residency be revoked while it was still possible to do so, but the Minister overturned it.

TGIF spoke to then Immigration Minister Clayton Cosgrove who denied any involvement with the Liu case and said such cases would normally have been handled by the Associate Minister. Cosgrove subsequently told us this week he’d received a verbal briefing from officials confirming they believed Liu’s residency had been obtained fraudulently, and that he was under investigation. But Cosgrove reiterated he had never seen Liu’s file or received any written briefing.

Yet our OIA request to the Immigration Service for the file to Shane Jones recommending residency be revoked turned up a surprise answer:

“Papers of that nature were sent to a previous Minister of Immigration and are withheld,” confirmed Api Fiso, the Group Manager for Border Security at the Immigration Service.

With Cosgrove out of the picture, that left his predecessor David Cunliffe in the gun. It now appears Cunliffe was, like Jones, explicitly warned about Yang Liu’s fraudulent residency application, yet for inexplicable reasons chose not to revoke the Labour party donor’s visa when he had the chance.

David Cunliffe was seen as a potential leadership rival to Phil Goff and is ranked third in the Labour line-up. Cunliffe, like Goff, wasn’t taking calls from TGIF this week, but if he had the chance to revoke Liu’s residency on official advice, and didn’t, his competence to ever serve as a Minister again will be called into question, as Shane Jones’ has.

TO read the Immigration scandal stories in chronological order: