EXCLUSIVE: Any attempt to deprive William Yan of his New Zealand citizenship would be unsuccessful, says Internal Affairs.

Convicted money launderer William Yan will keep his controversial New Zealand citizenship.

The millionaire businessman is serving a sentence of five months' home detention in a penthouse apartment in downtown Auckland after pleading guilty to the charge, as the Herald revealed in May.

Yan - also known as Bill Liu, Yang Liu and Yong Ming Yan - admitted receiving "significant sums of money" between 2012 and 2014 from a series of frauds.

The surprise money laundering conviction led to the Department of Internal Affairs to investigate whether his New Zealand citizenship should be revoked.

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He was granted citizenship in 2008 by Shane Jones, then a Minister in the Labour government, against the advice of Internal Affairs who believed Yan did not meet the "good character" requirements.

This was because Yan had two identities, was wanted for arrest in China and was under investigation by Immigration New Zealand.

But Jones, now a candidate for New Zealand First in the upcoming election, granted citizenship anyway on humanitarian grounds.

This led to accusations of political bias as Yan had forged links with a number of MPs, particularly in Labour, who lobbied in support of his citizenship bid.

Yan says he made his fortune legitimately 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 for a short time.

He was later acquitted of passport fraud by a High Court judge.

The Auditor-General criticised Jones in a subsequent report about the citizenship but found no evidence of political corruption.

William Yan with supporter Dover Samuels, who lobbied for his citizenship. Photo/Brett Phibbs.
William Yan with supporter Dover Samuels, who lobbied for his citizenship. Photo/Brett Phibbs.

The Herald can now reveal the Minister of Internal Affairs, Minister Peter Dunne, has accepted the official advice that Yan should keep his New Zealand citizenship.

Under the Citizenship Act, the Minister can "deprive" someone of citizenship if it was procured by "fraud, false representation, wilful concealment of relevant information, or by mistake".

"Shane Jones was aware of the concerns surrounding Mr Liu's character at the time of making his decision to grant him citizenship in 2008," said the advice from Internal Affairs.

"Therefore, it is unlikely there are grounds to that Mr Liu is deprived of his citizenship as it was not procured by fraud, false representation, wilful concealment of relevant information, or by mistake."

Yan's conviction was for money laundering between 2012 and 2014, well after his citizenship was granted, so Internal Affairs did not think any attempt to remove his citizenship would be successful.

His lawyer Marc Corlett, QC, said:

"Mr Yan has always maintained that he was honest and transparent in his application for citizenship. Mr Yan is therefore pleased but unsurprised by the Minister's confirmation today that there are no grounds for depriving him of his citizenship.

"With this issue now behind him, Mr Yan is looking forward to focusing his future energies on his family and on his various business interests."

The citizenship decision now brings Yan's legal woes to an end.

In what a criminal legal expert described as a "unique" case, Yan agreed to the criminal prosecution in New Zealand as part of a $43 million deal with China.

The Chinese government alleged Yan was wanted for fraud in his homeland and New Zealand police seized his assets in 2014 as part of a civil money laundering case.

While maintaining his innocence of any wrongdoing in China or New Zealand, Yan reached a record-breaking deal in August last year.

He would pay $42.85 million - of which New Zealand would keep $15m - and voluntarily return to China to face the fraud charges.

No matter what sentence was given to him in China, Yan would be allowed to return to New Zealand to face a criminal prosecution for money laundering here.

In sentencing Yan in May, Judge Rob Ronayne remarked the case was "unusual".

Dr Bill Hodge, an expert in criminal law at the University of Auckland, went further to described the prosecution as "unique".

He could not think of another precedent case and said Yan's surrender to China -and subsequent safe return to New Zealand - means the prosecution in China could be considered a "show trial".

"Why would the Chinese agree to his return to New Zealand? If they really wanted him, he would never leave a Chinese prison, once they had him."

William Yan paraded in front of Chinese media after his voluntary surrender last November. Photo/Supplied.
William Yan paraded in front of Chinese media after his voluntary surrender last November. Photo/Supplied.
William Yan pictured after his safe return from China to New Zealand. Photo/Jason Oxenham.
William Yan pictured after his safe return from China to New Zealand. Photo/Jason Oxenham.

Yan, as China's fifth most wanted fugitive, was paraded before state media when he returned last November.

But his return to New Zealand, revealed by the Herald in January, was quietly acknowledged by the Chinese government in May to say Yan pleaded guilty to "embezzlement" in China and sentenced to three years in prison.

This sentence, said the press statement from the Ministry of Public Security, was suspended because of Yan's surrender and the $28 million returned to China.

His New Zealand sentence on the money laundering conviction ends in October.

William Yan's history in New Zealand

2001: Arrives in New Zealand with his Yang Liu passport. Does not declare his second identity, Yong Ming Yan, under which he is wanted by China for alleged fraud.

2002: Is granted permanent residency as Yang Liu, without declaring his second passport.

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

2007: Immigration New Zealand move to revoke permanent residency is delayed by Immigration Minister David Cunliffe.

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

2009: Is 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 criticises former Cabinet minister Shane Jones for granting citizenship but said there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

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

2016: Forfeits $42.85 million to police to settle the civil case. Voluntarily returns to China to face trial on fraud charges.

2017: Returns to New Zealand and pleads guilty to money laundering charge. Sentenced to five months' home detention. Minister of Internal Affairs Peter Dunne decides against stripping citizenship.