Jared Savage

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

Liu: $100k not just for wine

Steven Ching was well regarded as a fundraiser among the Chinese community for the Labour Party. Photo / APN
Steven Ching was well regarded as a fundraiser among the Chinese community for the Labour Party. Photo / APN

Controversial businessman Donghua Liu says he bid at Labour Party auctions and made anonymous donations to some MPs - but clarified that the $100,000 figure he gave was not for one bottle of wine as previously reported.

Labour had challenged Liu to provide evidence and leader David Cunliffe said the clarification vindicated the party's position.

Liu, to whom Labour gave permanent residency against official advice, said his earlier signed statement on the wine auction was "capable of two meanings" and after repeated inquiries from the Herald he said he wanted to clarify what he spent the $100,000 on.

The signed statement obtained by the Herald on Sunday said that at a 2007 Labour Party fundraiser, he "successfully bid on bottles of wine including one bottle signed by the then Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Helen Clark, with a contribution of close to $100,000".

The previous sentence in the signed statement mentioned dinner and a boat trip on the Yangtze River in 2007 with a group including Rick Barker, the Minister for Internal Affairs at the time, which Liu estimated to cost between $50,000 to $60,000.

Mr Barker has previously confirmed his presence on the trip but said he felt like an "intruder on a staff function".

Liu's new statement said: "I did say I made a contribution of close to $100,000 and that is my closing comment in my statement ... that is how much I believe I have donated in total to Labour and some of their MPs during their last term in Government."

He said the figure included the wine auctions, a $2000 donation to the Hawkes Bay Rowing Club, the Yangtze River trip and anonymous donations to MPs.

"I have no reason to inflate this number. It's as best as I can remember," said Liu.

The Labour Party says the river trip and the donation to the rowing club are separate to any financial support for the party and leader David Cunliffe said the clarification from Liu vindicated the party's challenge to the millionaire businessman.

"I think it vindicates the position that we've taken which is that we have challenged Mr Liu and those reporting on him to produce the evidence to back their claims," Mr Cunliffe said. "It's very interesting that we find there was no $100,000 bottle of wine."

Liu said he donated to both Governments in good faith and without expectation.

"Some of these donations were made anonymously which was perfectly legal and so such donations will only ever appear in some individual donation returns as anonymous," the businessman said.

The Herald last week revealed Mr Cunliffe wrote a letter for Liu's residency application, despite previous denials, and also Mr Barker's dinner with Liu on the Yangtze River.

Mr Cunliffe said Mr Barker could "feel pretty aggrieved" about the $50,000 to $60,000 price tag estimated by Liu for the trip. He did not believe the figure was credible.

"I doubt that Mr Barker asked Mr Liu to take his entire company on a boat trip so it seems unfair if that was the cost, and who knows, to account it as a donation to Mr Barker or the Labour Party," Mr Cunliffe said.

"Frankly it's ludicrous."

How Labour fundraiser helped Liu

The man who hoped to be the first Chinese MP for the Labour Party has emerged as a central figure in the donation claims of Donghua Liu.

Steven Ching was a successful fundraiser for Labour and was No42 on the party list ahead of the 2005 election, but withdrew.

The Herald can now reveal that the Auckland businessman, who organised dinners where guests donated $1000 to sit beside former Prime Minister Helen Clark, approached the office of David Cunliffe about Liu's residency bid.

Mr Ching was not home and did not return messages, but Labour sources confirmed he was the "conduit" between Liu and the party.

When the Herald broke the news that Mr Cunliffe wrote a 2003 letter on behalf of Liu's residency bid, the Labour leader said he did not recall having ever met the businessman.

"To the best of my knowledge that letter came through my office and an immigration agent on his behalf."

Mr Cunliffe this week said "to the best of my knowledge" Mr Ching was not that agent. "However he appears to have had some contact at staff level with the New Lynn Electorate Office over the matter."

Labour sources said Mr Ching had links to Liu and became the "conduit" between the party and the millionaire businessman. "Ching was the 'money man' responsible for organising the fundraising dinners and established a good relationship with Liu," said one.

- NZ Herald

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