Jared Savage

Jared Savage is the New Zealand Herald's investigations editor.

Photograph shows Liu-Labour link

Exclusive: Businessman’s partner snapped receiving bottle of wine from minister after win in fundraising auction

Donghua Liu's partner Juan Zhang and Rick Barker at a Labour fundraising auction in 2007.
Donghua Liu's partner Juan Zhang and Rick Barker at a Labour fundraising auction in 2007.

A Labour Cabinet Minister presented a bottle of wine to the partner of businessman Donghua Liu at a fundraiser for the party.

The Herald has obtained a photograph of Rick Barker with Juan Zhang, who has two children with Liu, after he won an auction for the bottle at an Auckland restaurant in June 2007.

It is not known how much Liu paid for the wine - believed to be signed by then-Prime Minister Helen Clark - and Mr Barker said he presented auction prizes several times at Labour fundraisers.

He was the Minister for Internal Affairs at the time, and visited Liu in his hometown of Chongqing in China earlier that year, although he did not know Liu was a donor to Labour.

Two sources have told the Herald that Liu paid $15,000 at an auction in 2007 for a book signed by Helen Clark.

Labour general secretary Tim Barnett said a check of the party's records showed no donation from Liu under his name.

However, he said it was possible he made donations at the local electorate level and had not been recorded by the party's central administration.

The Labour Party has previously accused the Government of making "cash for access" deals with Donghua Liu, who received citizenship after lobbying from National minister Maurice Williamson and whose hotel was later opened by Prime Minister John Key.

Mr Barker, now a regional councillor in Hawkes Bay, said he was a guest of Liu at the dinner in Chongqing and visited his cement company while on holiday in China. But he had not known Liu was a Labour donor and he was not in China on official business as a minister.

"I went to China to catch up with some friends of mine, see some sights ... and I made a side trip to Chongqing - I had not been to the city before.

"I was in the city a short time. Mr Liu showed me his business and that night, I attended a dinner which seemed to be a dinner he had put on for all his staff."

Mr Barker could not remember how he came to be invited to visit Liu in Chongqing.

He said it was "probable" he also had dinner with Liu in New Zealand.

"I am trying to recall events of over seven years ago, so it's a little challenging.

"But it can't have been a regular event, because if it was I would recall that. In fact, my contact with Liu fell away quite quickly."

At the time of the donation and dinner with Mr Barker, Liu had permanent residency - granted in 2005 by Labour's Associate Immigration Minister, Damien O'Connor, against official advice - but was not yet a New Zealand citizen.

Labour leader David Cunliffe said yesterday he had nothing to do with the granting of Liu's residency which occurred before he became Immigration Minister in 2006.

Labour's president at the time, Mike Williams, said he did not remember seeing Liu at any fundraisers he attended.

"If he was a significant donor to the party, I would have probably known about it. But the name honestly doesn't ring a bell at all."

Liu later received citizenship after lobbying from Mr Williamson in 2010 and Mr Key opened his hotel the following year.

He gave $22,000 to the National Party in 2012 through one of his companies, and had meetings with Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse in an attempt to secure relaxed immigration rules for rich migrants.

Mr Williamson quit his ministerial portfolios last month after the Herald revealed he contacted police over a prosecution against Liu.

- NZ Herald

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