Businessman gifted $150k to Labour

Donghua Liu. Photo NZ Herald
Donghua Liu. Photo NZ Herald
Millionaire businessman Donghua Liu spent more than $150,000 on the previous Labour government, including $100,000 on a bottle of wine signed by former prime minister Helen Clark at a party fundraiser.

The embarrassing revelations are contained in a signed statement from Liu, which the Herald on Sunday has obtained.

They come at the end of a horror week for Labour, already under pressure after the New Zealand Herald revealed that Liu paid $15,000 for a book at the same fundraiser in 2007. Labour has said it had no record of any donations from Liu. And leader David Cunliffe had to fight to keep his job after revelations he wrote a letter for Liu's residency, despite previous denials.

The Chinese businessman, who has also donated to National, has been at the centre of a New Zealand political storm in recent weeks.

Maurice Williamson resigned as a minister after an admission he intervened in a police investigation on Liu's behalf.

Labour loudly condemned National for so-called cash-for-access in the wake of the resignation.

The latest developments have sparked calls for a police inquiry.

"This is scandalous from the public's perspective. There has to be some sort of official investigation, whether it's a police one or a parliamentary one," said political commentator Bryce Edwards. "There must be some sort of official investigation, whether it's a police or parliamentary."

Asked about a potential investigation under electoral finance laws, Liu's lawyer Todd Simmonds indicated that Liu was comfortable with his financial support and would cooperate with any inquiry.

Cunliffe last night dodged questions, saying it was a "matter for Labour Party's head office". Labour Party general secretary Tim Barnett said the party had no record of the donation.

Liu's signed statement was dated May 3, two days after Williamson's resignation. It said:

• Liu paid "close to $100,000" for wine at a 2007 Labour Party fundraiser;

• That he spent $50-60,000 hosting then-labour minister Rick Barker on a cruise on the Yangtze River in China in 2007; and

• That Liu visited Barker in Hawke's Bay in 2006, having dinner with him at an exclusive lodge and then meeting for breakfast the next morning. Liu said he made a donation to Hawke's Bay Rowing, which Barker was associated with.

Barker previously told the Herald that he could barely remember having dinner.

Last night Barker, now a regional councillor, said the revelations came "as a surprise and a complete reversal" of Liu's previous comments.

Edwards said while it was not clear if Labour had broken any laws, public confidence in the party had been dented.

He said a private prosecution could be possible, and it was the responsibility of the electoral commission to investigate and to decide whether a referral to police should be made.

"Everything seems a lot murkier since the Donghua Liu scandal and I think the impetus lies with politicians to open their books and allow the public to see how they're fundraising their money and what they're doing with it."

Edwards added that although the blame did not lie with Cunliffe personally, he had to deal with egg on his face. "It does create a charge of hypocrisy because he's campaigned strongly against the Government relationship with Donghua Liu and it appears Labour's relationship is just as deep."

Edwards said the case highlighted the need for a regulatory body separate from the Electoral Commission "to look at questions of corruption and irregularities" around political donations. Donations made at fundraising auctions or dinners are not recorded individually, but the total amount raised is declared.

Liu yesterday told the Herald that his donations had been in good faith without any expectation. "It is over to the politicians to make any appropriate declarations.

"However, because I've built relationships with politicians, made donations, because it's election year and, dare I say, because I'm Chinese, I suppose I've been an easy target for some to gain some political mileage and score some points."

Before leaving Washington yesterday, John Key indicated that he was aware of the statement.

"In the end, it's for Donghua Liu to speak about his own position and I think he has done that to the Herald."

- Herald on Sunday

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