Opportunity missed in case of migrant with two identities

By Phil Taylor

A Weekend Herald investigation reveals the role of another senior member of the former Labour Cabinet in the case of a millionaire with passports in two names and two birth dates wanted for alleged large-scale fraud in China who was granted citizenship against the advice of officials.

The former Labour Government missed an opportunity 15 months ago to revoke the permanent residency of controversial immigrant Yang Liu.

Mr Liu, who has befriended politicians and made donations to Labour and National, was granted citizenship last July against the advice of officials.

Investigations by police and immigration into possible identity fraud, money laundering and immigration fraud are nearing completion after a visit in November by three detectives to China. It hasn't been determined whether charges will be laid.

The Weekend Herald can reveal that Mr Liu was given citizenship nine months after officials advised the Immigration Minister at the time, David Cunliffe, that dual identities allegedly used by Mr Liu were grounds to revoke his permanent residency. They provided a legal opinion in support.

The recommendation that Mr Cunliffe revoke Mr Liu's residency came a year after Australian authorities in 2006 sent to the Chinese Government A$3.37 million ($4.25m) seized from bank accounts that Liu controlled.

Mr Liu agreed to forfeit the money without admission of liability. A company registered in the British Virgin Islands tax haven was second defendant in the New South Wales Supreme Court case.

The money was frozen under Australia's Proceeds of Crime Act because authorities suspected Mr Liu of opening and operating bank accounts using a false name, that name being Yang Liu. Mr Liu was granted New Zealand permanent residency in 2002 and citizenship last August.

The Australians alleged he made several trips to Australia both as Yong Ming Yan and as Yang Liu.

The matter is outlined in the annual report (2006-2007) of Australia's Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions which says Yong Ming Yan "was wanted by law enforcement authorities of China for alleged large-scale misappropriation and embezzlement".

Mr Liu rejects allegations by the Chinese Government and strenuously denies committing any crime.

His lawyer has told New Zealand authorities his two Chinese passports - bearing the same photograph but different names and birth dates - are genuine and a result of his birth parents fostering him out and both sets of parents registering his birth.

According to ministerial briefing papers prepared for Shane Jones (who granted Mr Liu citizenship) and released under the Official Information Act, the Chinese allege that in 1999 Yong Ming Yang stole the identity of Yang Liu by falsely registering his birth.

The birth date on the passport in the name of Yang Liu is October 20, 1972, which would make him 26 or 27 in 1999 when the Chinese allege the birth was registered. The Chinese claim Yong Ming Yan fled China in 2000.

In September 2007, Mr Cunliffe decided not to revoke Mr Liu's residency but recommended investigations continue.

Mr Cunliffe would not discuss the case when approached by the Herald before the election but later, under the Official Information Act, the Department of Labour released to the Herald the following passage from Mr Cunliffe's decision: "I have decided that the most appropriate route for this case at this time is for it to continue to be assessed by BSG [Border Security Group - includes fraud and compliance units] as a potential prosecution file. I do not discount the possibility of reconsidering it in the future."

A source close to Mr Cunliffe told the Herald that the minister had erred on the side of natural justice for Mr Liu but was "somewhat surprised" when Mr Jones (delegating for the Internal Affairs minister of the time, Rick Barker), granted Mr Liu citizenship without first discussing it with Mr Cunliffe.

Removing permanent residency would likely have resulted in deportation and removed the prospect of Mr Liu's gaining citizenship. Withdrawing citizenship is more complex.

Investigations into Mr Liu were continuing at that time and Department of Internal Affairs officials recommended to Mr Jones that he decline to grant citizenship because "it is considered that Mr Liu does not meet the good character requirement".

Mr Jones this week said he had no comment when the Herald asked why he had gone against that advice.

Documents released under the Official Information Act show Mr Jones was informed that Mr Liu was under criminal investigation concerning his true identity, was alleged to have fraudulently obtained and used Chinese identity documents, remained the subject of an Interpol wanted-to-arrest "red notice" for alleged serious financial fraud in China and was unwilling to "resolve the Interpol red notice matter".

Attempts to contact Mr Liu were unsuccessful and his lawyer, John Billington, QC, said he did not have instructions to comment.

But a submission by Mr Billington to Mr Jones two days before citizenship was granted criticised officials for forming "a subjective opinion" on matters that "can be regarded as unsubstantiated allegations".

- NZ Herald

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