Dom Post on Jones inquiry

March 13th, 2013 at 6:30 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Given the paucity of talent within Labour’s ranks and the divisions within the party, Mr Shearer’s desire to restore a supporter to the front bench is understandable.

The public, however, may well have different priorities when it comes time to assess Labour’s fitness to operate the levers of government.

Ms Provost’s investigation found no evidence of corruption, but it did find ample evidence of poor judgment on the part of the former associate minister of immigration.

A harsh summary is not corrupt, just incompetent.

She found Mr Jones acted hastily before he was in possession of all the relevant information, did not consult either police or the Immigration Service despite knowing both were investigating Mr Liu, and failed to document the reasons for his decision.

Immigration and citizenship cases are fraught with danger for ministers because the final say on cases rests with them and because those making representations on behalf of applicants are often their parliamentary colleagues.

It is easy for the perception to develop that it is not what applicants offer New Zealand that is important, but who they know.

Especially when the applicant boasts to the Department that he is mates with MPs, insists on a quick decision despite officials telling him they will recommend no.

In those circumstances the best protection for ministerial reputations and New Zealand’s reputation as a country free of corruption is for the decision-making process to be properly documented.

Mr Jones’ failure to record why he ignored official advice to reject Mr Liu’s application and his failure to even document under which section of the Citizenship Act he granted Mr Liu’s application brought his reputation and that of New Zealand into disrepute.

As Mr Jones observed, officials were also criticised by the auditor-general for failing to adequately brief the minister and assuming he understood his responsibilities. Fair enough. It is as important for them as it is for ministers to follow proper process.

However, having explained their concerns about Mr Liu’s dual identity and the fact he had been red-flagged by Interpol, they had grounds for thinking the minister would put the integrity of New Zealand’s citizenship ahead of his impatience to be done with a vexatious case.

The question voters may want to ask themselves ahead of the next election is would they employ someone with Mr Jones’ impetuous nature to run their company. If not would they trust him to run a government department?
A question that may be answered in time.
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The Jones and Liu report

March 12th, 2013 at 2:37 pm by David Farrar

The Auditor-General has reported their findings into the decision by Shane Jones to grant Bill Liu citizenship against official advice. This is a matter of discretion for the Minister so it never has been about whether the decision was legal.

Here are some extracts from the report:

Mr Barker acted properly in deciding that he could not make the citizenship decision for Mr Liu, but we do not consider it was wise for him to have signed the letter – at least in that form. We appreciate that the letter was one of many pieces of correspondence that a Minister has to deal with in the course of a busy week, and that it related to procedure rather than any substantive decision. Nonetheless, it created an impression that Mr Barker would be taking a personal interest in Mr Liu’s file. 

Mr Barker would have been better either to amend the letter to make clear that he would not be personally involved in the file or to arrange for someone else to sign the letter.

It is worth noting that signing a letter on an issue regarding someone you had a personal connection with, was sufficient grounds for Nick Smith to resign as a Minister. Of course Barker was defeated at the 2008 election.

Mr Jones had significant concerns about the advice he was given, but did not take steps to clarify that advice with other officials. He also knew that both the New Zealand Police and Immigration New Zealand were still actively investigating Mr Liu, but did not consult those agencies before making his decision. In keeping with his usual approach for ministerial decisions, he wanted to make a final decision.

A serious mistake.

He did not record the reasons for his decision, and Mr Liu’s advisers were notified of his decision before the Department was notifed.

That is appalling. Liu got told before the Department was even told! This shows he had special access.

This effectively deprived officials of an opportunity they might otherwise have had to correct the misunderstandings on which Mr Jones’ decision was based.

I still can’t believe he told Liu before he told his own department.

One recommendation is:

We recommend that the Department of Internal Affairs and the Minister record the reasons for any significant decisions they make on citizenship applications, particularly when the decision involves a departure from normal policy or procedure. 

Recording the reasons for decisions is important to ensure transparency. It also provides an important protection if  concerns are raised that the decision has been made for an improper purpose. 

This has always been my major criticism of Jones. If you are going to go against a recommendation, a semi-competent Minister should do a file note and state why.

Now Jones did produce a three page file note to the Auditor-General. But because it was not attached to the official files, and not recorded in any official way, it is impossible to know if the file note was written at the time, or written some time later after the story blew up. The fact that the DIA official involved states the file note is inaccurate in parts damages the credibility of this claimed file note. The whole purpose of a file note is to attach it to the file.

We recommend that a Minister considering making a citizenship decision against the advice of officials should explain their reasons, and give officials the opportunity to respond, before finalising the decision. 

Although ultimately the decision is for the Minister to make, this additional step would give officials the opportunity to confirm that the proposed decision is within the terms of the Citizenship Act 1977 and is not based on any misunderstanding of relevant policies or the facts.

And it goes without saying don’t tell the mate of your mate before you tell your own officials.

Some interesting stuff also on the Cunliffe decision:

The advice provided to Mr Cunliffe by officials, in particular the advice provided by the senior legal adviser in August 2007, conveyed, in reasonably strong terms, that it was open for the Minister to revoke Mr Liu’s residency. We were told that Immigration does not usually provide advice that strongly advocates that the Minister should make a particular decision. The strongly worded advice on this occasion was not common.

In other words, it was not a marginal call in the eyes of the Department.

In our view, this decision was made in an appropriate way. It represented a sensible way in which the difficult decisions arising from unproven allegations could be addressed. The reasons for the Minister’s decision were made clear, and were formally recorded on the file in the way that was understood. 

Also, although the Department’s effective recommendation was not being followed, the decision-making process shows that Mr Cunliffe addressed the issues with considerable thought and care. There was no evidence of favouritism or that the Minister made the decision for improper reasons.

And this is the key difference between Cunliffe and Jones. Cunliffe documented his decision. This sounds a minor thing, but as the AG says is very important. When there is no reason given, and the person is a donor to your political party, then how can we know it was not because Dover told his mate Shane that this guy was a donor and they should look after him?

The detailed conclusions around the decision are:

We acknowledge that Mr Jones gave considerable thought to Mr Liu’s application, and that, in his view, it was important to make a decision reasonably promptly. 

However, in our view, he made his decision too hastily and without ensuring that he had a full understanding of all the relevant information. In particular, Mr Jones either did not understand or did not accept the Department’s advice that neither section 8 nor section 9 of the Citizenship Act were applicable.

A Minister who made decisions based either on ignorance or refusal to listen.

In our view, given that he knew there were ongoing investigations by Immigration and the New Zealand Police, he should also have consulted them before making his decision, as the Investigator’s note of the first meeting suggested he was intending to do.

Absolutely.

We also consider that Mr Jones should have recorded his reasons for authorising the grant of citizenship. He was making a decision against the Department’s recommendation, and the basis for his decision and reasons for departing from normal policy would not have been obvious from the papers. Indeed, on the face of the decision-making papers, it was not even clear under which section of the Citizenship Act he had authorised the grant.

Shane Jones is incredibly talented, but also notoriously lazy and sloppy. He has the potential to make a significant contribution to NZ Politics, and may get that opportunity to do so again as a frontbencher for Labour. But to succeed, he is going to have to make sure there is never a repeat of a situation like this.

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Beware the spin

February 14th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Claire Trevett at NZ Herald reports:

Labour MP Shane Jones has received a draft copy of the auditor-general’s report into his 2008 decision to grant Chinese billionaire William Yan citizenship, the report on which his political career hangs.

Neither Mr Jones nor MP David Cunliffe, who is also understood to have received a copy of the draft, will comment on the report.

However, sources suggested Mr Jones was optimistic that its contents were not damaging enough to harm his chances of a comeback to Labour’s front bench.

Stuff is reporting:

The Auditor General is reported to have cleared former immigration minister Shane Jones of any unlawful behaviour in his handling of an immigration case.

I would be very cautious of reports based on what Labour is leaking.

First of all, of course Jones will not be found to have acted unlawfully. No one has ever suggested he broke the law. That is not the issue.

The granting of citizenship has ministerial discretion. It is not unlawful to make a bad decision. It is not unlawful to ignore the fact that some one is a wanted criminal and has multiple aliases and is under investigation by four different agencies. But it is incredibly poor judgement.

I’ve never suggested that Jones personally benefited from his decision.  I think he was pressured to grant Liu citizenship to keep his mate and fellow MP Dover Samuels happy, and also the Labour Party fundraiser who had connections to his office and was being paid to “facilitate” the application.

Anyway I await the AG report with interest. What I am going to be interested in is the details. Did they find the mystery DIA official whom Jones claims told him Liu would be killed? Did they locate even one line of paperwork from Jones as to why he over-rode official advice? Did they locate any notes from Samuels disclosing that Liu was a donor?

UPDATE: Stuff is now reporting:

A report by the Auditor-General into Labour MP Shane Jones’ handling of an immigration case does not reach a ‘black and white’ conclusion, sources say.

Media today reported that Labour MP Shane Jones had been cleared by the probe. That would pave the way for his return to the front bench, from which he was demoted last year.

But a source, who had seen the report, warned the watchdogs conclusions were not straightforward in exonerating Jones.

“Those matters are a question of degree, and I would refrain from rushing to judgement…the arguments are quite complex.”

Another source agreed, saying the report is not “unequivocal.”

As I said, don’t fall for spin. Judge when the report is published.

 

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Will Liu/Yan keep his citizenship

August 28th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Andrea Vance at Stuff reports:

 Prime Minister John Key is not ruling out stripping Chinese fugitive Yong Ming Yan of New Zealand citizenship.

The Office of the Auditor-General is investigating why former Labour minister Shane Jones gave Mr Yan a New Zealand passport in 2008.

Mr Yan, a wealthy political donor – also known as Bill Liu – was red-flagged by Interpol as a fugitive.

He was wanted for fraud and identity theft in China and Internal Affairs officials advised Mr Jones that his application should be declined.

Mr Jones, who was stood down from his shadow portfolios in May, says he gave Mr Yan a passport on humanitarian grounds, and that he had been told Mr Yan would be arrested, executed and his organs harvested if he were sent back to China.

Yesterday, Mr Key said Mr Jones has some “big questions to answer”. It was difficult to comment until Auditor-General Lyn Provost had finished her investigation, he said.

However, citizenship could be revoked if “[a minister is] satisfied that they obtained the citizenship by fraud, false representation or wilful concealment of relevant information or by mistake”.

I don’t think the Minister should strip Yan or Liu of his citizenship.

It would be much more fun to make it a vote in Parliament, and watch the horror on Labour MPs faces as they realise they have to vote on whether or not Liu should be a citizen :-)

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Espiner on Liu

August 27th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Guyon Espiner and 60 minutes did a 20 minute programme last night on the Bill Liu case. Espiner blogs on it today:

It’s not often that you put an item of nearly 20 minutes to air and still feel that there was plenty more of the story still to tell. 

60 Minutes Producer Chris Wilks and I spent a month digging deep into the story of Citizen Yan and had access to documents giving us an enormous amount of detail. 

But we still feel there is plenty we don’t know. 

In fact all the things which, for most people are very simple, in Yan’s case, are opaque. 

Like what’s his name? Yong Ming Yan, Yang Liu, Bill Liu, Wiremu Liu and William Yan are among his monikers. The search warrant for his Metropolis apartment also seeks documents in the name of Yong Ming Run. 

What about another simple question. Where does he live? That’s easy. He lives on the 35th floor of the MetropolisTower, known as Room 3505. He bought units 35H-L inclusive – property titles 138A/534, 138A/319, 138A/320, 138A/321 and 138A/322 – and combined them into one residence. 

He still lives there but he sold them in 2010 to Khai Wain Ng. The curious thing about that is that Khai Wain Ng had listed Room 3505 of the Metropolis as the address for his company, Global Market International Limited, as early as 2007. 

So is Liu also Ng? And still to this day we have no idea who Liu really is.

Curiously Liu’s early submissions claim that he was the Vice President of the Chinese Democracy Party. His lawyers argued that the Chinese government may want to persecute him for that and for information about the party’s 30,000 secret members. 

We tried to check with the CDP in New York but they would not confirm, or deny, whether he had held that position. Certainly their website names other Vice Presidents but no one going by the names Yan has used. 

In the paperwork, officials point out that if Yan felt he was the subject of political persecution there were appropriate avenues for him to take. 

“These claims, which effectively amount to an allegation of political persecution, could be advanced by Mr Liu before specialist forums namely the Refugee Status Branch and the Refugee Status Appeals Authority,” officials wrote. 

He did not do that. He appealed to the politicians and the politicians helped him. 

And did they ever help him.

Here are the questions that still need to be answered. 

How did Dover Samuels get to know William Yan and why did he go into bat so strongly for him? 

Why, after Rick Barker was introduced to Yan in 2005, did he take until mid-2008 to hand the case over to Shane Jones? 

What checks did Shane Jones make to see whether he had a conflict of interests in this case? We point out in the story that there is a shared business history between Jones and Liu. Liu was a director, and through his company Live Fish, a shareholder in the joint venture Crabco. One of the other shareholders was Te Ohu Kaimoana of which Jones was chair between 2000 and 2007. 

Now I am prepared to accept that this was a fact that Jones may not have had great interest or even awareness of. But did he check? Was it considered? We know that he knew of Liu’s role with Crabco and Live Fish because it was in the submission that QC John Billington made to Jones pleading the case for Liu’s citizenship. 

Pansy Wong also mentions the company, which she describes as a “joint venture with Talleys, Sealord and Sanford” in a letter received by Rick Barker’s office on February 4, 2008. 

David Shearer has said on Jones’ behalf that Jones had met Liu on one or two occasions. In what capacity? And why did the Internal Affairs official Johannes Gambo claim that Liu had rung him more than once during the process to claim that he had “big support” from Jones and from Samuels. 

It all looks very suspicious. Did Liu have a commitment from Jones he would approve it? Is that why Barker delegated it to Jones? And recall that Liu had paid $10,000 to a Labour Party fundraiser to help him with his application – and whose brother was the senior staffer for Jones.

The greatest mystery to me is why Jones approved the citizenship application and did so without documenting his reasons. 

He says he made a file note of an official telling him that Yan would be sent to his death and his organs harvested if he returned to China. 

Jones hasn’t produced the note and says he didn’t put it on the file. Why not? There are hand written notes from Jones on Parliamentary notepad paper in the file we saw. But not that one. 

He says he’s glad he didn’t put it on the file because the file “leaked”. But if you were a Minister making a controversial decision against the advice of officials wouldn’t you want your reasons to be there in black and white when the scrutiny came on? 

I don’t think it is unreasonable to suspect there was no file note ever made, and the reason is bogus. Jones can not produce the note, and it was not put on the file. He can not name the official, and no official can be found who said they gave such advise.

The worst case scenario is this is a case of citizenship sold for favours (not to Jones directly but to others in Labour). The best case for Jones is it is gross incompetence. To not do a comprehensive file note stating your reasons when you overturn the advice of officials and grant citizenship to such a dubious character is incompetent.

I personally like Shane Jones, and regard him as one of the best communicators in Parliament. He had great potential. But this Liu case has always hung over him. Unless he can produce some proof to back up his claims about why he granted citizenship against official advice – then he can not be allowed to become a Minister again – and hence a shadow Minister.

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A popular citizen

July 7th, 2012 at 11:54 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Seven government agencies wanted to join a raid on Metropolis tower apartments owned by a wealthy Chinese businessman later granted citizenship in controversial circumstances.

A search warrant was executed on the apartments owned by Bill Liu – also known as Yang Liu, Yong Ming Yan and now William Yan – on the 35th floor of the tower in Auckland in June 2007.

Officers took more than an hour to search individual rooms, such were their size.

He was under investigation by the Department of Labour for immigration fraud at the time and documents released under the Official Information Act show that other law enforcement agencies wanted to be part of any raid at the property.

The police were going to execute the warrant with Immigration officers alone – until approached by the Ministry of Fisheries, the Department of Internal Affairs, Customs, the Serious Fraud Office and the Inland Revenue Department.

Seven different agencies wanted in on the raid! Sure let’s make the guy a citizen as quickly as possible.

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More credibility issues for Liu and Jones

July 6th, 2012 at 1:39 pm by David Farrar

Patrick Gower at 3 News reports:

3 News has learned New Zealand authorities were working with Chinese counterparts to have a controversial Chinese millionaire extradited.

Yong Ming Yan, also known as Bill Liu, is the mystery Chinese man Shane Jones granted New Zealand citizenship against official advice.

And new documents show how why officials wanted rid of Mr Yan.

In China he faced allegations that he “misappropriated funds in excess of $61 million New Zealand dollars”, and “Chinese authorities wanted him returned to face charges and had requested his extradition.” …

Discussion between officials in both countries was happening just three weeks before Mr Jones’ decision, and the Chinese Ministry of Public Security referred to “the importance of the Yan case.”

The documents also detail a raid on Mr Yan’s apartment in the Metropolis tower. They show there was plenty of interest in taking part – not just from immigration – but also the Police’s Asian Crime Squad, Internal Affairs, Customs, the Serious Fraud Office, Inland Revenue and the Ministry of Fisheries.

Authorities were also informed by Internal Affairs that Mr Yan “is spending literally millions of dollars at the casino and associating with known criminals.”

So officials here and in China were working on having Mr Yan extradited. Then, at complete cross-purposes, Mr Jones’ decision meant Mr Yan got citizenship here in a special ceremony at Parliament.

Liu/Yan seemed to be under active investigation by almost every criminal or regulatory body we have.  You had Government officials in almost a dozen ourfits investigating him, and trying to get him extradited to stand trial in China – and in the midst of this Shane Jones grants him citizenship!!!

There is another story by Gower, which wounds the contention that Liu/Yan was a democracy activist and Falun Gong supporter who feared execution in China.

Now here’s a twist – the mystery Chinese millionaire, Bill Liu/Yong Ming Yan, is linked to an even more controversial Chinese billionaire caught up in a massive political scandal that is rocking the Communist Party to its core.

That link is through a man called Xu Ming – one of richest men in China.

Xu Ming is big time – touted as a potential Chinese Finance Minister before a foiled coup plot.

And Liu/Yan is apparently so close he even bought Xu Ming into New Zealand for a visit at one point.

Gower asks:

  • Why was Bill Liu/Yong Ming Yan so fearful of going back to China if he had connections with people so close to the very top of the Communist Party?
  • Why was Bill Liu /Yong Ming Yan – who claims to be a leader of the Chinese Democracy movement – prepared to host such people out in New Zealand?

Good questions. Noe ones asked by Shane Jones, but hopefully will be asked by the Auditor-General.

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Liu arrested

July 4th, 2009 at 11:13 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Police have charged a multi-millionaire businessman, who was granted New Zealand citizenship in controversial circumstances, with making false declarations on immigration papers and using fake identities to obtain a passport.

Yong Ming Yan – also known as Bill Liu, Yang Liu and William Yan – was supported in his citizenship bid last year by Labour MPs Dover Samuels and Chris Carter, and National MP Pansy Wong.

To be fair to Chris Carter and Pansy, they had no idea he was dodgy. Dover did know of the allegations but chose not to believe them. But most of all Shane Jones had all the details from his departments about Liu, including a very firm recommendation that he not be given citizenship. In fact even then they were talking about prosecuting him.

He appeared in Manukau District Court, and is facing 12 charges in relation to false declarations on his immigration papers, having false passports and using deception to gain citizenship.

Yan entered no plea to eight charges under the Crimes Act, two under the Passport Act and one under each under the Immigration Act and Citizenship Act.

And authorities have obviously decided there are sufficient ground to prosecute.

He was granted citizenship in a VIP ceremony in Wellington last year after lobbying from former Labour MP Dover Samuels, who regards him as a close friend.

Rick Barker, the then Internal Affairs Minister charged with approving citizenship applications, was also on the list of politicians who knew Yan. Because of this, he passed the file to another minister, Shane Jones.

Mr Jones overruled Internal Affairs advice that Liu – now Yan – did not meet character requirements and granted him citizenship.

Mr Jones, now the Opposition spokesman for economic development and the environment, last night declined to comment.

Sooner or later Jones need to explain why he over-rode the advice from officials. Citizenship is not a right for people not born here, and those who get it should be of sound character. DIA did not think he was. Was Jones influenced by Liu’s donations to political parties and candidates? Was he convinced by his mate’s lobbying? Whatever it was, we need to know. If Liu is convicted, there should be a formal external inquiry into why he was granted citizenship.

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Yang Liu’s private VIP citizenship ceremony in Parliament

October 25th, 2008 at 9:36 am by David Farrar

The NZ Herald reports:

A Chinese man granted citizenship against the advice of officials and wanted in his homeland for “large-scale misappropriation and embezzlement” was given a VIP citizenship ceremony at Parliament.

Yang Liu, also known as Bill Liu, was granted his citizenship in August by ministerial prerogative.

He became a New Zealander at a private citizenship ceremony in the Maori Affairs select committee room, officiated over by Labour MP and former Cabinet minister Dover Samuels.

And who is Yang Liu?. The latest TGIF from Ian Wishart reveals:

His real name, confirmed for the first time in this country by TGIF Edition, is indeed Yongming Yan

Even worse, an informant resource report to the Immigration Service last year, but apparently ignored by Associate Immigration Minister Shane Jones, provides detailed information on Yan’s involvement at the head of an Asian organised crime syndicate, which “paid large cash sums to various ministers and delegates indirectly through secret anonymous accounts

Now whether this is correct or not is one issue. But what is not in dispute (it seems) is that Shane Jones knew of these allegations, as the were part of the file officials had who fought against citizenship. So why did Jones ignore this?

Tonight, TGIF Edition can also reveal that one of Yongming’s former associates in this country – Shane Phillips – was a Labour Party campaign manager, and his brother Daniel Phillips works in the office of Associate Immigration Minister Shane Jones – the man who gave ‘Bill Liu’ citizenship against the recommendations of officials who’d investigated his background.

Shane Phillips is also known as Shane Te Pou, and in 2000 Helen Clark vetoed his appointment to a ministerial job. Also:

There are fresh allegations this week, including that ‘Liu’ (in reality, Yan Yongming) may have donated cash to the campaigns of Rick Barker and Dover Samuels.

And Wishart has unearthed some interesting aspects of donations to Dover Samuels:

A further $5,000 was given to Dover Samuels by the oddly-named ‘Tamaki ki te Paki Wu’, apparently residing at a house in Derrimore Heights in Manukau City.

So, according to the official documents, two separate Wu’s slipped a total of eight grand between them into the Dover Samuels campaign fund. But who was this mysterious Mr Tamaki Wu? A check of the Manukau address Dover had given for him provides an added twist to this story: it was registered not to Mr Wu but to Daniel Phillips – Dover’s former private secretary now working for Associate Immigration Minister Shane Jones. So $5,000 had come to Dover from the address of a man whose brother was involved with Chinese
businessman ‘Yang Liu’ (real name Yan Yongming), yet the money was not in Daniel Phillips’ name, but a person or entity named Tamaki Wu.

There is also a suggestion that an anonymous $5,000 donation to Rick Barker was from Yan.

The issues raised here can not be dealt with by a departmental inquiry. Departments can not investigate their own Ministers. A fully empowered commission of inquiry should be set up to investigate this. The key tasks should be

  1. To verify the real identity of the man granted citizenship by Labour Ministers over the protests of officials
  2. Does he have a criminal record, and what is the nature of that
  3. Determine the full extent of his donations to all parties and candidates
  4. Why Ministers both refused to revoke his residency and further granted him citizenship against the strong advice of officials
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