Labour Party hits back at donation claims

By Adam Bennett, Bevan Hurley

Liu's lawyer Todd Simmonds indicated Liu was comfortable with his financial support and would cooperate with any inquiry. Photo / NZ Herald
Liu's lawyer Todd Simmonds indicated Liu was comfortable with his financial support and would cooperate with any inquiry. Photo / NZ Herald

Labour has challenged businessman Donghua Liu to come up with evidence to support his claims of large donations to the party several years ago which it still has no record of.

Labour's torment at the hands of the millionaire property developer continued today as he claimed to have spent more than $150,000 on the previous Labour government, including $100,000 on a bottle of wine signed by former prime minister Helen Clark at a party fundraiser.

The embarrassing revelations are contained in a signed statement from Liu, obtained by the Herald on Sunday.

Labour Party President Moira Coatsworth said Labour had still not found any record of the either the bottle of wine donation or one of $15,000 for a book, also signed by Ms Clark.

"No-one has provided any documentary evidence to us that contradicts our records," she said.

She challenged the validity of Liu's claims, saying the Herald on Sunday had refused to provide the party with a copy of Liu's statement in which he makes the allegations or to even let them read it.

"We consider this to be a denial of natural justice.''

While the Herald on Sunday had reported the fundraiser at which Liu bought the wine was on June 3 2007, "we have found no record of any fundraiser held on that date''.

"We continue to call on Donghua Liu and any third parties who might have information about these allegations, including the Prime Minister, to place what they know into the public domain or to refer to the regulators.

" We have had no approaches from the Electoral Commission or any regulatory agency. We have always cooperated with regulators, and will always do so when required.'

Liu, who has also donated to National, has been at the centre of a New Zealand political storm in recent weeks.

Maurice Williamson resigned as a minister after an admission he intervened in a police investigation on Liu's behalf. Labour loudly condemned National for so-called cash-for-access in the wake of the resignation.

The latest developments have sparked calls for a police inquiry.

"This is scandalous from the public's perspective. There has to be some sort of official investigation, whether it's a police one or a parliamentary one," said political
commentator Bryce Edwards. "There must be some sort of official investigation, whether it's a police or parliamentary."

Asked about a potential investigation under electoral finance laws, Liu's lawyer Todd Simmonds indicated that Liu was comfortable with his financial support and would cooperate with any inquiry.

Cunliffe last night dodged questions, saying it was a "matter for Labour Party's head office". Labour Party general secretary Tim Barnett said the party had no record of the donation.

Liu's signed statement was dated May 3, two days after Williamson's resignation. It said:

• Liu paid "close to $100,000" for wine at a 2007 Labour Party fundraiser;

• That he spent $50-60,000 hosting then-labour minister Rick Barker on a cruise on the
Yangtze River in China in 2007; and

• That Liu visited Barker in Hawke's Bay in 2006, having dinner with him at an exclusive lodge and then meeting for breakfast the next morning. Liu said he made a donation to Hawke's Bay Rowing, which Barker was associated with.

Barker previously told the Herald that he could barely remember having dinner.

Last night Barker, now a regional councillor, said the revelations came "as a surprise and a complete reversal" of Liu's previous comments.

Edwards said while it was not clear if Labour had broken any laws, public confidence in the party had been dented.

He said a private prosecution could be possible, and it was the responsibility of the electoral commission to investigate and to decide whether a referral to police should be made.

"Everything seems a lot murkier since the Donghua Liu scandal and I think the impetus lies with politicians to open their books and allow the public to see how they're fundraising their money and what they're doing with it."

Edwards added that although the blame did not lie with Cunliffe personally, he had to deal with egg on his face. "It does create a charge of hypocrisy because he's campaigned strongly against the Government relationship with Donghua Liu and it appears Labour's relationship is just as deep."

Edwards said the case highlighted the need for a regulatory body separate from the Electoral Commission "to look at questions of corruption and irregularities" around political donations. Donations made at fundraising auctions or dinners are not recorded individually, but the total amount raised is declared.

Liu yesterday told the Herald that his donations had been in good faith without any expectation. "It is over to the politicians to make any appropriate declarations.

"However, because I've built relationships with politicians, made donations, because it's election year and, dare I say, because I'm Chinese, I suppose I've been an easy target for some to gain some political mileage and score some points."

Before leaving Washington yesterday, John Key indicated that he was aware of the statement.

"In the end, it's for Donghua Liu to speak about his own position and I think he has done that to the Herald."

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf01 at 26 Oct 2014 20:29:53 Processing Time: 516ms