The Herald reports Cunliffe’s earlier denials on Tuesday:
Q: Do you recall ever meeting Liu?
A: I don’t recall ever meeting him, no.
Q: Did you have anything to do with the granting of his permanent residency?
A: No, I did not.
Q: Did you advocate on his behalf at all?
Q:Were you aware of any advice against granting him permanent residency?
A: Not to my recollection.
They now reveal that he wrote to immigration officials on his behalf in 2003:
The 2003 letter was written in his capacity as the MP for New Lynn after he was “approached my constituent Donghua Lui [sic] who is concerned at the time it is taking to process his Investment Category application”.
Mr Cunliffe this week denied any involvement with Liu’s residency bid after the Herald revealed the property developer paid $15,000 at a Labour Party fundraiser for a book signed by Helen Clark in 2007.
The letter, released to the Herald today under the Official Information Act, dated April 11, 2003 said Liu’s application for residency was accepted for processing by the Immigration Service on August 13, 2002.
Mr Cunliffe said Mr Liu wished to set up a joint venture business with his Tianlong Property Development Company – which owns his stalled property development in Newmarket – to export large quantities of agricultural and horticultural products to China.
“It is hoped that products from the company will be available to the market in July 2003,” wrote Mr Cunliffe.
“I am aware of the difficulties facing the Business Migration Branch of New Zealand Immigration Services in coping with the overwhelming numbers of applicants that have applied for consideration under these categories and the time taken to verify documents.
“However, it would be very helpful to Mr Liu to be advised of an estimated period of time in which he could expect a decision on his case.”
So what do we have now:
- David Cunliffe denied advocating on behalf of Liu or ever even meeting him, yet wrote a letter on his behalf to immigration officials
- Liu made two large donations to Labour (one for a book and one for wine), neither of which Labour ever disclosed
- A former Labour Internal Affairs Minister was hosted by Liu in China, with costs likely to be well over $500 yet not disclosed on the Register of Pecuniary Interests
- Labour granted Liu residency despite official advice, after lobbying by Cunliffe
In light of all of this, the Electoral Commission needs to formally investigate Labour’s 2007 donations return and determine why these donations were not disclosed.
But most of all David Cunliffe has to explain why he denied knowing Liu or advocating for him, when his name and i signature is on a letter doing just that.
UPDATE: John Armstrong writes:
David Cunliffe is in deep political trouble. So deep that his resignation as Labour’s leader may now be very much in order.
It now emerges that – contrary to the point-blank denials that Cunliffe gave to a press conference only yesterday – that he did assist controversial businessman Donghua Liu in the latter’s application for New Zealand residency.
At a minimum, the revelation that Cunliffe wrote a letter to immigration officials seeking information on progress regarding the residency application is a massive blow to the Labour leader’s personal credibility. How can anyone have any confidence in what he says from hereon?
Harsh, but what his colleagues will be wondering.
Cunliffe may argue that the letter was about immigration processes and written on a constituent’s behalf – something MPs frequently do – and therefore was not an endorsement of the application.
But that does not wash. Either deliberately or through a lapse of memory, Cunliffe has been economical with the truth.
He has called for National Party ministers’ heads to roll for the equivalent or less. Having set the standard required of others, it is incumbent on him to himself follow suit.
The self-ravaging of his credibility means Labour now has to abandon its strategy of trying to paint John Key and National as corrupt. To carry on it that fashion would be the height of hypocrisy.
But the bigger question now is whether Cunliffe can lead Labour into the coming election campaign with this albatross reeking around his neck.
Unless Cunliffe can come up with a very good explanation, the answer has to be ‘no’. After all Cunliffe is not just trying to win the election, he is also auditioning for the job of Prime Minister. And on that score, today’s events qualify as a fail – and by a wide margin.
The only relatively good news for his colleagues – if you can call it good news – is that under Labour Party rules dealing with emergency situations close to an election, the ballot on a replacement is likely to be restricted to the parliamentary wing rather than also taking in the wider party membership and affiliated trade unions.
Wouldn’t it be fascinating if certain Labour MPs knew that Liu had donated to Labour, but deliberately didn’t tell Cunliffe, so that this would blow up at this stage.
UPDATE2: Duncan Garner writes:
If David Cunliffe’s credibility wasn’t shot before this, it is now. Cunliffe is now unelectable as the next Prime Minister.
He had made it clear: he had not had anything to do with, or met or advocated for National party donor Donghua Liu. But, that’s gone up in smoke, because it’s now become clear he did advocate for him as the local MP.
He wrote a letter to Immigration officials in April 2003 as the MP for New Lynn – on behalf of Liu who was concerned about the time it was taking to process his Investment Category application.
Cunliffe says he can’t recall any of it and his office had no record of the letter. That’s just hopeless. It’s not even a creative excuse.
None of this looks flash for Cunliffe. He looks dishonest and who can trust him now? This goes to the heart of his credibility, integrity and likeability; on all three fronts he’s in serious trouble.
He’s either got “brain-fade”, or he’s a sloppy liar. Perhaps both.
This is sloppy and his opponents in caucus will write today’s date down: today is crucial. Today is the day his MPs all privately lost the faith; they’ll be sharpening their knives for the days after the election.
David Cunliffe is toast. Not immediately, but his days are numbered. Unless he can pull off some sort of unlikely and remarkable election victory – which today – just became even more remote.
Labour is now at 23% to win on iPredict.