New Donghua Liu donation uncovered

ADAM DUDDING, MATT OGILVIE, HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 05:00 24/08/2014
Donghua Liu
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ
CONTROVERSIAL: Donghua Liu in court.

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A new politician has been dragged into the saga of Donghua Liu's funding of political parties.

National's Coromandel MP Scott Simpson received a $5000 donation from the controversial Chinese-born property developer for his 2011 election campaign, after meeting Liu about 10 times, including a couple of dinner dates.

The donation was declared in Simpson's post-election return, and has been uncovered by the Sunday Star-Times during a forensic trawl of donations to MPs.

But Simpson did not flag the donation with National Party leadership when Liu and the cash-for-favours scandal hit the headlines this year. "I had made my declaration which, as far as I was concerned, was all that I was required to do," Simpson said.

Links with Liu have already caused grief for a number of politicians.

In May, National's Maurice Williamson was forced to resign from his ministerial posts after it was revealed he had phoned police to intervene in Liu's prosecution on a domestic violence charge.

Then, in June, Labour leader David Cunliffe was put on the back foot after it was proved he had written a letter in 2003 supporting Liu, after initially denying having done so.

West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O'Connor has also faced criticism for intervening three times to help Liu when he was applying for New Zealand residency.

On Friday, Liu appeared in Auckland District Court for sentencing on domestic violence charges, having pleaded guilty in April to assaulting his partner, Juan Zhang, and her mother, Lunju Wang. However, his lawyer, Paul Davison QC, told the court Liu wished to vacate his earlier guilty pleas, and lawyers for Liu and the Crown will next meet in October, for a "disputed facts" hearing.

Simpson said he first met Liu a year or so before the July 2011 donation, when he was chief executive of the children's charity Make-A-Wish, and still based in Auckland.

"I met him because he was keen to develop a site in Newmarket and I had been to look at the site. I had a meal or two with him. I was keen to see him have an opportunity to develop it.

"I thought a development on that site would be good for Auckland, and good for New Zealand."

Liu's proposed $70 million project at the former Carlton Bowling Club site has since stalled.

Simpson said he considered Liu more an "acquaintance" than a friend. They had met 10 or so times, but had not communicated since after the 2011 election, when Simpson became a first-time MP in Coromandel.

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Simpson said Liu made the donation because "I think he had a feeling that probably I was someone worth backing and supporting."

When asked what Liu might have expected in return, he said: "I don't think there's necessarily any need for there to be an association like that."

Simpson said he had found it "interesting" when Liu became the focus of political-funding scandals earlier this year, but thought "nothing much more than that".

Donors to the big political parties have attached their names to $10.5m between 2011 and 2014. Another $6.3m of donations to the same parties are marked anonymous. More than $1m more was donated by individuals, companies and lobby groups to the campaigns of candidates like Simpson, analysis shows - nearly $18m in total.

According to a Stuff.co.nz/Ipsos political poll last week, an overwhelming 68 per cent say the identities of all donors to parties should be disclosed.

The Sunday Star-Times launched a public campaign last week, arguing for transparency in political funding so that all donations - however large or small - be immediately disclosed to the Electoral Commission.

The paper asks that loopholes allowing donors to be masked by trusts and other aggregators, like fundraising events, be closed. At present, anyone who donates less than $15,000 need not be publicly named, and other loopholes exist to keep donors' names out of the public domain.

GENEROSITY COMES AT A STEEP PRICE

Our donations regime was created after the 2005 election when almost every party was ordered to repay misspent funds.

In that year, when the Auditor-General found Labour unlawfully spent $768,000, some of the party's MPs said legislation may be passed to retrospectively make the spending legal. Eventually the party arranged a "whip-around" to help raise the required funds.

National's biggest controversy that year was its links to the Exclusive Brethren church, and leader Don Brash was forced to admit church leaders had told him of their attack ads against the Greens.

That election prompted the 2007 Electoral Finance Act, but did not prevent controversy, with Winston Peters forced to stand down as Foreign Minister in 2008 over denials that the NZ First party had received a $100,000 donation from Owen Glenn.

Donations have been back in the headlines this election.

Justice Minister Judith Collins attended a private dinner with a Chinese customs official and the founder of Oravida, a milk export company on which her husband is a director.

The Government has given Oravida cash to help it to overcome border issues after the Fonterra botulism debacle. Founder Stone Shi played golf with John Key and the company donated $30,000 to the National Party, on top of another $56,000 donation made in 2011.

In March it emerged that Chinese businessman Donghua Liu donated $22,000 to the National Party not long after he was granted citizenship. It later emerged that Liu was facing domestic violence charges, and that minister Maurice Williamson had telephoned police to check whether the case was on "solid ground". Williamson was forced to resign.

Shane Jones was stood down from his Opposition portfolios, while the Auditor-General investigated his handling of an immigration application from donor William Yan, otherwise known as Yang Liu or Bill Liu.

Yesterday the NZ Herald reported police raided Liu's luxury Auckland penthouse and seized assets including the $2 million Metropolis apartment and a Mercedes-Benz.

- Sunday Star Times

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