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

Citizen Yan strikes deal with police over $40m of assets

William Yan has reached a settlement with the police over the $40m of assets seized following a money-laundering inquiry.
William Yan outside the Pullman Hotel where he lives. Photo / Greg Bowker.
William Yan outside the Pullman Hotel where he lives. Photo / Greg Bowker.

One of New Zealand's most controversial citizens has cut a record-breaking deal over the $40 million assets seized as part of a money-laundering inquiry.

The deal struck with William Yan - also known as Bill Liu, Yang Liu and Yong Ming Yan - is the final settlement in a civil case two years after the police raided his penthouse.

More than $40m of dollars of assets were frozen as New Zealand detectives worked closely with Chinese authorities who claim Yan stole $129 million in a complex fraud.

Court documents allege Yan concealed the fortune in New Zealand through complex money laundering transactions, where property and shares in companies were held by trusts and companies in other people's names.

Those assets included a collection of luxury cars, the Metropolis apartment - five titles joined together on the 35th floor - an 18.8 per cent stake in Mega, millions in bank accounts, a troubled North Shore property development and a Waikato farm.

Most of the settlement will stay secret until the police issue a press release with some of the key details today, said a spokesman for Police National Headquarters.

Yan politely declined to comment when approached by the Herald last week.

The deal, which was approved by a High Court judge, means a trial estimated to last six months is no longer necessary.

The assets were restrained under the Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act, which essentially forces someone to prove how an asset was paid for.

William Yan is the fifth most wanted man in China. Photo / Greg Bowker.
William Yan is the fifth most wanted man in China. Photo / Greg Bowker.

These cases are determined by the civil level of proof, the "balance of probabilities", rather than the much higher criminal evidential threshold of "beyond reasonable doubt".

The settlement dwarfs the previous largest judgment against one individual under the law which was $5.1m.

The 45-year-old has not been charged with money-laundering offences and has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

It remains to be seen whether China will now formally seek the extradition of Yan, who holds New Zealand citizenship.

Prime Minister John Key revealed the wealthy businessman was ranked fifth on China's Top 100 most wanted list soon after meeting with President Xi Jinping earlier this year.

The settlement is the latest twist in a saga dating back to 2001 when Yan, whose New Zealand citizenship and political connections have been at the centre of years of controversy, arrived in New Zealand.

He first made headlines for his links to the previous Labour government and the decision to give him a New Zealand passport, despite having multiple identities and an Interpol alert against his name.

Former Labour Minister Shane Jones overruled the advice of DIA officials, who said Yan did not meet the good character test for citizenship, following lobbying from Dover Samuels, a Labour MP at the time.

Yan later stood trial in the High Court at Auckland in May 2012 on five charges of making false declarations on immigration and citizenship papers.

William Yan reporting for a bail check in 2009. Photo / Greg Bowker.
William Yan reporting for a bail check in 2009. Photo / Greg Bowker.
William Yan with Dover Samuels following his acquittal at the High Court trial in 2012. Photo / Brett Phibbs.
William Yan with Dover Samuels following his acquittal at the High Court trial in 2012. Photo / Brett Phibbs.


Justice Timothy Brewer acquitted him despite saying the evidence "proves a situation that is highly suspicious".

The Auditor-General later investigated how Yan came to be granted citizenship, and criticised Jones, but found no evidence of wrongdoing. The politician said he believed Yan would be executed if sent back to China.

Yan has said he made his fortune legitimately as a businessman and the two identities he came to New Zealand with, Yong Ming Yan and Yang Liu - are valid because he was fostered out by his birth parents in China.

Passport in the name of Yang Liu. Photo / Supplied.
Passport in the name of Yang Liu. Photo / Supplied.

Both sets of parents registered him as part of their household with different names and dates of birth, said Yan, and the Chinese Government considers him an enemy because he is associated with Falun Gong and is pro-democracy.

Following his acquittal, Yan kept a low profile.

But two years later, he again came to the attention of police when detectives found a note as part of an inquiry focused on a group of VIP high rollers at SkyCity.

Handwritten in Chinese, the note authorised the purchase of $1.85 million worth of shares in a company registered in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands and was signed by Yang Liu.

That caught the attention of Operation Galaxy detectives, who also know him by other names - Bill Liu to his friends, Yong Ming Yan according to Chinese authorities and William Yan on his New Zealand passport.

But the resurfacing of his name in Operation Galaxy triggered a fresh look at the dormant allegations of fraud in China and his business dealings in New Zealand, culminating in another police raid on his penthouse in the Metropolis tower in August 2014.

The investigation also uncovered Yan's astonishing SkyCity records where he gambled $293 million over a 12-year period - despite being banned twice for two years and losing a total of $23 million.

William Yan leaves the Auckland High Court during his 2012 trial. Photo / Brett Phibbs.
William Yan leaves the Auckland High Court during his 2012 trial. Photo / Brett Phibbs.


William Yan

2001: Arrives in New Zealand with two identities, Yang Liu and Yong Ming Yan.

2002: Granted permanent residency as Yang Liu.

2005: Applied for citizenship. Makes donations to Labour and National.

2007: Immigration New Zealand's moves to revoke permanent residency vetoed by minister.

2008: Three MPs write in support of citizenship application. Citizenship approved by ministerial prerogative, against advice of officials. VIP ceremony held at Parliament. Changed his name to William Yan.

2009: Arrested at Auckland Airport and charged with making false declarations on his immigration and citizenship papers.

2012: Found not guilty in High Court at Auckland, despite Justice Timothy Brewer saying the evidence "proves a situation that is highly suspicious".

2013: Auditor-General releases report which criticises former Cabinet minister Shane Jones for granting citizenship but said there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

2014: Police raid Mr Yan's penthouse and seize his assets as part of a money-laundering inquiry.

- NZ Herald

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