Whatever the outcome of the citizenship-fraud trial taking place in Auckland, former associate immigration minister Shane Jones has some explaining to do.
Mr Jones, readers will recall, was the minister who granted citizenship to Chinese millionaire Yong Ming Yan, also known as Bill Liu, despite being advised by officials that he did not meet New Zealand's good character test.
According to evidence presented to the High Court in Auckland last week, Mr Jones was told in 2008 that Yan was the subject of Interpol Red Notices based on arrest warrants issued in China and that the Internal Affairs Department did not know who he was because he had two passports, two names and two birth dates. Yet Mr Jones approved his application one day after receiving his file.
Even more alarming are the reported comments of Yan to officials who told him he had little prospect of gaining citizenship because of his murky past. According to Internal Affairs case officer Olele Johannes Gambo, Yan leaned back in his chair, with his arms behind his head, and said he was 99 per cent confident of success because "he had a lot of support from members of Parliament ... he was going to take them to China".
Mr Jones, now an Opposition front-bencher, has refused to comment on the matter while "it's in front of the court", other than to say he had "most certainly not" gone to China.
However, his leader, David Shearer, said yesterday he would not stand the list MP down after receiving assurances from Mr Jones, speaking to other MPs with knowledge of the case and reviewing information retained by Mr Jones. The Labour leader is attaching his reputation to that of Mr Jones in the same way that his predecessor fatefully attached his reputation to that of former Labour whip Darren Hughes when he chose not to stand him down while police investigated a complaint against him.
It is a risky strategy that leaves Mr Shearer open to charges of hypocrisy given that he has called for ACT MP John Banks to be stood down from his ministerial duties while allegations about his 2010 Auckland mayoral campaign are investigated.
Mr Shearer says Mr Jones followed due process. That sounds impressive, but simply means Mr Jones considered the material associated with the case before exercising his authority as minister.
It does not explain why the then minister ignored the concerns of officials who met twice with him about the application.
The case must now be allowed to run its course. But, once it is completed, there is clearly a need for a full inquiry reviewing Mr Jones' actions, the material put before him by officials and the involvement of other members of Parliament. Yan's application for citizenship was supported by letters from National's Pansy Wong and Labour's Dover Samuels and Chris Carter.
New Zealanders rightly take pride in this country's reputation for propriety. Anything that threatens that reputation should be treated with the utmost seriousness.
- The Dominion Post