Donghua Liu with PM John Key at the opening of the $70m
Newmarket project. Photo NZ Herald
A wealthy Auckland businessman was given New Zealand
citizenship against official advice after a Government minister
lobbied the colleague who made the decision.
Maurice Williamson, the Minister of Building and
Construction, and Prime Minister John Key then opened the
first stage of a $70 million construction project launched by
the Chinese-born developer after he became a citizen.
The following year, one of his companies made a $22,000
donation to the National Party.
The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) recommended that the
citizenship application of Donghua Liu be declined on the
grounds that he did not spend enough time in New Zealand or
meet English language criteria.
However, one of Mr Liu's business partners approached Mr
Williamson and John Banks - the Mayor of Auckland at the time
- and they wrote to the Minister of Internal Affairs, Nathan
Guy, asking him to grant citizenship against the official
"Invested in NZ and a lot of support," was a file note for
the case released under the Official Information Act.
Mr Guy, who is no longer the Minister of Internal Affairs,
told the Herald that he made the final decision on more than
800 citizenship cases and regularly received correspondence
from family and supporters of applicants.
He considered all of the evidence and said of Mr Liu's
application: "I considered at the time that, on balance, the
potential benefits to New Zealand warranted the granting of
The official recommendation of whether citizenship should be
granted was ignored in 61 of the 1011 cases between 2009 and
But the 2010 case was one of several that caused concerns
among DIA staff, who raised the possibility of favouritism
with the Office of the Auditor-General during an inquiry into
a citizenship decision made by Labour MP Shane Jones.
Mr Jones was criticised in the report last year but cleared
of any corruption over his decision to grant citizenship to a
wealthy businessman who had strong links to Labour.
The Auditor-General was also told of other citizenship files
involving support from MPs.
An in-depth investigation of those files was beyond the scope
of the original inquiry but nothing was found to suggest that
decisions were made "as a result of improper influence".
"However, it is clear that the apparent links between
different applicants and their agents, or supporters, coupled
with strong support from various MPs and subsequent questions
from the minister or ministerial officials caused disquiet
among some citizenship officers," according to the inquiry
The Auditor-General said there was nothing wrong or improper
with MPs advocating on behalf of constituents in citizenship
cases, or ministers considering those representations.
"However, advocacy of this kind, in particular where the
advocate is a fellow MP or known to the minister, clearly
presents risks to the integrity of the decision-making system
and to the reputations of those involved," the
No MPs or supporters were named in the report but Mr
Williamson and Mr Banks were identified through Official
Information Act requests by the Herald.
Mr Williamson and Mr Key opened the first stage of a $70
million property development project in Newmarket in 2011,
the refurbishment of the Boulevard Hotel, described as the
"brainchild" of Mr Liu.
Both Mr Williamson and Mr Banks declined to comment on their
support for Mr Liu's citizenship because it was a
Others who supported Mr Liu's bid for citizenship were lawyer
Jeremy Goodwin and Roy Mottram, who are listed as directors
in different companies with him.
Electoral donation records show that Roncon Pacific Hotel
Management Holdings Ltd - of which Mr Liu and Mr Goodwin are
directors - made a $22,000 donation to the National Party in
Mr Mottram confirmed he approached Mr Williamson and Mr Banks
to support Mr Liu's citizenship bid as he was making a very
significant contribution as a businessman in Auckland,
particularly in the construction industry.
"John's support was just a matter of course because the
activity was in Auckland City, he was the mayor and he was
supportive of things that were good for Auckland," said Mr
"Obviously, if you're the Minister of Building and
Construction, you would want to promote building and
construction, which we have been involved with for a long
Mr Mottram said the requirements for New Zealand citizenship,
which include the amount of time spent in the country and
language requirements, were out of date.
"A lot of active, global businessmen are never in one place
for any length of time ... People who have global businesses
are global citizens."
How it unfolded
2010: Businessman Donghua Liu granted NZ citizenship by
Nathan Guy, the then Minister of Internal Affairs, against
official advice after being lobbied by Maurice Williamson,
Minister of Building and Construction, and John Banks, the
Auckland Mayor at the time.
2011: Mr Williamson and Prime Minister John Key attend the
opening of the first stage of Mr Liu's $70 million
redevelopment in Newmarket, Auckland
2012: Roncon Pacific Hotel Management Holdings Ltd - of which
Mr Liu is a director - makes a $22,000 donation to the
- Jared Savage of the NZ Herald