Labour MP Shane Jones has admitted there were questions over the identity of the Chinese millionaire he controversially gave a New Zealand passport to.
Jones approved the application from Yong Min Yan, who is standing trial for passport fraud.
He overruled the advice of internal affairs officials who said Yan's citizenship should not be approved. Yan - also known as Bill Liu - had been red-flagged by Interpol, had a number of identities and his Australian bank accounts were frozen.
Jones said today: ''Look, I certainly know that there was a live issue as to whether or not this man is who he says he was. Without access to files I just really can't tell you whether I can recall...''
Earlier in 2008, immigration officials had recommended Yan's residency - granted in 2002 - be revoked. Then-immigration minister David Cunliffe told them to investigate further.
Jones said he wasn't briefed by Cunliffe or immigration officials.
''I don't remember ever talking to David Cunliffe about this guy ... I don't ever recall being briefed by the immigration department on this issue. And the man was a resident as far as I was concerned, as I recall.''
He added: ''Um, in fairness it's four years on. Without having access to the file I just can't fully recollect. But what I do know is that there was always a mystery as to whether the man was who he says he was. Those were allegations.''
He was aware of the Interpol red notices - issued because the Chinese government ordered arrest warrants for embezzlement.
''Yes, yes that was referred to [in Yang's case file]. And that related to allegations that the Chinese government, as I recall, was making.''
Jones said his decision to approve Yan's citizenship was based on ''humanitarian grounds'' but will not elaborate until the trial concludes. A verdict is likely on Thursday.
He also received a letter from Yang's lawyer, John Billington QC and a number of parliamentary colleagues, including Labour MPs Dover Samuels and Chris Carter and National's Pansy Wong.
Asked if he acted ''as a minister should'' Jones replied: ''I made a very difficult call. I've made that call. I'm being maligned as a consequence of what an official has apparently said in the court etc and when the court case is over I will comprehensively and robustly defend myself.''
Jones gave assurances to Labour leader David Shearer over the weekend and showed him notes he has made from 2008.
He gave an account to colleagues at a weekly caucus meeting this morning. He will decide whether to release those notes over the weekend.
Last week the High Court at Auckland heard Yan boasted to immigration officials he had MP friends who would ensure he got citizenship.
Jones has insisted he received no money or gifts from Yang. And Jones also insists he did not travel with him to China, as was suggested last week in court. He believes he may have met him once but does not remember it.
Cunliffe said: ''The matter did come across my desk sometime before the citizenship issue. It was completely separate. The bar for the revocation of residency is a high one. From memory the evidence proposed to me from officials didn't meet that bar and I asked them to continue digging.
''There was some evidence but some of the advice I received from memory was an early decision may have nee vulnerable to appeal and therefore it was better for officials to continue their investigations.''
He hasn't seen the paperwork on citizenship but stressed there was ''probable cause'' for officials to continue their enquires into his residency.
Cunliffe said he ''may have met him once at a function.'' He was lobbied by ''two or three'' colleagues but declined to say who. ''Putting his side of the case...it did not affect my decision.''
He said there was ''conflicting evidence'' about the grounds of the Chinese arrest warrant.
Labour leader David Shearer is under pressure to stand Jones down because of his recent calls for government ministers John Banks and Nick Smith to quit.
''Politics is a brutal sport. I can understand Prime Minister Key wanting to see someone like myself stood down and it's really the politics of utu. We have a crack at John Banks and they have a crack at Shane Jones.''
Asked if an independent body should investigate to clear his name, he did not answer directly.
''The reality is that my name has surfaced in the context of testimony, apparently given by bureaucrats in the internal affairs department. I don't know those people. I think one of them was the chap that actually briefed me and I'll have more to say about that individual after the court case.''
- © Fairfax NZ News
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