Phil Taylor

Phil Taylor is a Weekend Herald and New Zealand Herald senior staff writer.

The mysteries of Citizen Yan

William Yan has been found not guilty of immigration fraud. Photo / Brett Phibbs
William Yan has been found not guilty of immigration fraud. Photo / Brett Phibbs

One thing is clear from the court decision this week in the case of William Yan he was found not guilty of immigration fraud.

But precious little more is certain about who our highest-profile new citizen really is, why he is a fugitive from China, whether he expected to buy political influence and why a former Cabinet minister disregarded the advice of officials and granted him New Zealand citizenship.

In the convoluted case of Citizen Yan many questions remain. Here are some.

What was the court case about?

Public interest has centred on former Associate Immigration Minister Shane Jones' granting Yan then going by the name of Yang Liu citizenship against the advice of officials who said he had not satisfied the good character requirement.

Justice Tim Brewer commented during the inquiry that it seemed "odd", in the circumstances, that Yan was granted citizenship in 2008.

But he said the case was not about that, but was limited to five allegations that Yan had dishonestly tried to gain access to New Zealand through specific documents.

The defence said the forms were filled out on Yan's behalf by an assistant, Shane Te Pou, a Labour Party stalwart, and there had been no intent by Yan to hide the fact that Yan had more than one identity.

The Crown said Yan must have known the documents contained untrue information because he later used them to travel on.

The judge ruled that the Crown had at most demonstrated "a high level of suspicion" but fell short of establishing the required guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Who is William Yan?

Born Yong Ming Yang, known in New Zealand as Bill Liu, gained citizenship as Yang Liu, changed his name in 2008 to William Yan, charged with immigration fraud under the name Yong Ming Yan.

His partner is Vienna Yu, a New Zealand citizen. They have two children, both born in Auckland. They live in a penthouse apartment in the Metropolis tower.

He was previously married for a short time to an Australian.

What is Yan's story?

He made his money legitimately as a businessman and his identities and different birth dates Yong Ming Yan and Yang Liu are also valid and came about because he was fostered out by his birth parents in China for a short time and both sets of parents registered him as part of their household with different names and dates of birth.

The Chinese Government considers him an enemy because he is associated with Falun Gong and is pro-democracy.

What do the Chinese allege?

That his real name is Yong Ming Yan, that he is wanted for large-scale fraud relating to entering into a false business contract, that in 1999 he stole the identity of a Yang Liu by registering the birth, used deception to obtain false Chinese passports and fled China in 2000.

What did the Australians do?

Yan married an Australian and unsuccessfully sought Australian citizenship about the same time as he was pursuing New Zealand residency. He used both the names of Yan and Liu on Australian applications. Using proceeds of crime legislation, Australian authorities froze A$3.37 million ($4.35 million) in bank accounts which Yan controlled under suspicion he was operating a bank account under a false name that of Yang Liu.

The money was sent to the Chinese Government in 2006 after Yan agreed to forfeit it without admission of liability.

He has since married a New Zealand citizen and was granted residency in 2002 and citizenship in 2008, both in the name of Yang Liu.

What else is known about Yan?

Yan was one of SkyCity casino's biggest gamblers where he was considered to be volatile. The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) said in 2009 that he was "one of a number of gamblers of significance whom the department has discussed [with] SkyCity".

The police have investigated Yan's activities. No charges have been laid.

The Serious Fraud Office this week told the Attorney-General it is interested in any information relevant to its role that may come to light if an inquiry goes ahead. SFO boss Adam Feeley said he would not rule out starting his own inquiry.

What political connections did Yan have?

Rick Barker, who was Labour's Internal Affairs Minister and thus had the power of granting citizenship, was a friend. The court this week heard that Barker and Yan were introduced by Te Pou, a friend and business associate of Barker's.

Barker stepped aside from making the decision on citizenship because of this conflict of interest and delegated it to Jones, the Associate Immigration Minister.

Former Labour minister Dover Samuels, who describes himself as a friend of Yan's, lobbied for Yan to be granted citizenship and, once Shane Jones had granted it, Samuels officiated at a citizenship ceremony in the Maori select committee room in Parliament.

Chris Carter, at the time, Labour's Minister of Ethnic Affairs, and Pansy Wong, who was a National MP, also wrote in support of citizenship. Labour and National each acknowledged receiving donations of $5000 from Yan before the 2008 election.

Did he have any connections with Shane Jones?

Longtime Labour activist Te Pou (also known as Shane Phillips) worked for Yan as his agent. Te Pou's brother, Daniel Phillips, was Jones' private secretary.

Jones yesterday told the Weekend Herald he did not consider a conflict issue arose because Daniel Phillips had no involvement in the process under which Jones granted Yan citizenship.

Jones said he could not recall having ever met Yan and nor did he recall discussing Yan with Daniel Phillips or his brother.

What reasons did officials give for refusing citizenship to Yan?

An Interpol "red notice" for an alleged $2.7 million fraud in China; allegations of fraudulently obtaining two false Chinese passports; and a current Immigration New Zealand criminal investigation.

What reason has Jones given for overriding that advice?

A DIA official told him Yan would be executed and his organs harvested if he returned to China. Jones therefore approved citizenship on humanitarian grounds. The DIA has nothing on record to indicate that advice was given but Shane Jones believes he took a note of it and is trying to find it.

Did Jones consult his colleague David Cunliffe, who as Immigration Minister until November 2007, had previously considered whether to revoke Yan's residency?

No. In 2007 Cunliffe decided not to revoke Yan's residence, but requested that investigations continue.

The Herald was told Cunliffe was "somewhat surprised" when Jones granted citizenship while the Immigration investigation was in progress and without discussing it with him.
Jones yesterday told the Herald he had followed the procedure set out by the DIA in reaching his decision.

Cunliffe was also no longer the Immigration Minister at the time Jones was considering the case - he was appointed Health Minister in November 2007 - at the same time Mr Jones first became a minister - and the role of Immigration Minister went to Clayton Cosgrove.

Is Shane Jones' job in jeopardy?

He has hinted he might quit politics but said as much when last in a scandal - over hotel porn movies paid for with a parliamentary credit card.

Labour leader David Shearer this week requested the Attorney-General begin an inquiry and stood Jones down from the front bench.

Attorney-General Lyn Provost has noted that significant time and public money would be involved and she would need to be satisfied an inquiry would add value.

Is this political?

Yes and yes. Yes, because after Labour's criticism of Prime Minister John Key for standing by ally and Act Party leader John Banks in the Kim Dotcom donation affair, Shearer had little option but to bench Jones. "I just can't answer the question of why he said 'yes' when the officials told him to say 'no'," Key said.

And yes, because of latent Labour leadership ambitions Cunliffe was beaten to the job by Shearer and Jones had long been touted as a leader.

Cunliffe this week refused to back Jones' decision.

"I'm not aware of the grounds Mr Jones considered," he said. "That's a matter for Mr Jones."

- NZ Herald

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