Jared Savage

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

Businessman in citizenship row admits charges

Donghua Liu in the Auckland District Court today. Photo / Richard Robinson
Donghua Liu in the Auckland District Court today. Photo / Richard Robinson

The businessman granted citizenship against official advice after a Government minister lobbied on his behalf has admitted domestic violence charges.

Donghua Liu today pleaded guilty to assaulting a woman and assault with intent to injure after an incident at the Boulevard Hotel in Newmarket, the first stage of a proposed $70 million property development by one of his companies.

His de facto wife, Juan Zhang, was the victim of the more serious charge, assault with intent to injure, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail.

Her mother, Lunju Wang, was the victim of the male assaults female charge.

The charges were laid after an incident in December and Liu initially pleaded not guilty.

However, the 53-year-old changed his plea to guilty on both charges during an appearance in the specialised Family Violence Court held within the Auckland District Court today.

He was released on bail to reappear at court in June.

Companies Office records show Ms Zhang is a director or shareholder in several companies with Liu. She is also a former director of the company that made a significant donation to the National Party.

The Herald revealed last month that Liu was given citizenship against official advice in 2010 after lobbying by National Party minister Maurice Williamson and the then Mayor of Auckland, John Banks.

The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) recommended that the citizenship application of Liu be declined on the grounds that he did not spend enough time in New Zealand or meet English-language criteria.

However, one of Liu's business partners approached Mr Williamson and Mr Banks and they wrote to the then Minister of Internal Affairs, Nathan Guy, asking him to grant citizenship against the official advice.

"Invested in NZ and a lot of support", was a file note for the case released under the Official Information Act.

Mr Guy, who is no longer the Minister of Internal Affairs, told the Herald that he made the final decision on more than 800 citizenship cases and regularly received correspondence from family and supporters of applicants.

He considered all of the evidence and said of Liu's application: "I considered at the time that, on balance, the potential benefits to New Zealand warranted the granting of citizenship."

The official recommendation of whether citizenship should be granted was ignored in 61 of the 1011 cases between 2009 and 2011.

Donghua Liu, left, with John Key at the opening of first stage of the construction project in Newmarket.
Donghua Liu, left, with John Key at the opening of first stage of the construction project in Newmarket.

But the 2010 case was one of several that caused concerns among DIA staff, who raised the possibility of favouritism with the Office of the Auditor-General during an inquiry into a citizenship decision made by Labour's Shane Jones when he was Associate Immigration Minister.

Mr Williamson, the Minister of Building and Construction, and Prime Minister John Key then opened the first stage of a proposed $70 million construction project launched by the Chinese-born developer after he became a citizen.

The following year, the firm that owns the land earmarked for the project donated $22,000 to National.

- NZ Herald

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