Embattled MP Jian Yang lobbied ministers in a bid to overturn a national security block on a China-born job applicant taking up a sensitive position in the defence force.
Months after first taking a seat in Parliament following the 2011 election, Yang took up the case of an aggrieved applicant for a New Zealand Defence Force job who had failed background checks conducted by the Security Intelligence Service.
Yang told the Herald he was merely acting on behalf of a constituent and had done nothing wrong. "I had simply sought answers on the constituents behalf through the appropriate channels, as is the responsibility of every Member of Parliament," he said.
A February 2012 letter obtained under the Official Information Act written by then-Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman to the applicant, copied in Yang "who has approached my office on your behalf," and noted Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson had also been lobbied.
Andrew Little, minister for responsible for the intelligence services, last night said security vetting is a "vital part of protecting the New Zealand government's most sensitive information".
"I can't discuss individual cases but generally speaking, I would be uncomfortable if an MP took up the issue of SIS clearance with a minister," he said.
The nationality of the applicant is not stated or is redacted in documents, but the letter states they had been a New Zealand citizen for fewer than ten years and Yang told the Herald he considered them part of the Chinese community in New Zealand.
Documents detailing this lobbying effort have come to light as the issue of China's expanding influence - and Yang's long-undisclosed 15-year history studying and teaching in China's military apparatus - has become an issue of national and international prominence.
Last week the Wall Street Journal, quoting an Australian intelligence official, reported New Zealand and their neighbour both tabled the issue of China's domestic interference at a July meeting in Ottawa of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.
The Herald understands the SIS were first alerted to Yang's background soon after his election to Parliament in 2011, and the agency began making further enquiries about him two years ago.
The position sought by the applicant is redacted, but the letter specifies it required applicants to pass SIS vetting to enable access to information classed as "Secret".
Positions in the NZDF requiring "Secret" clearance, one rung below the most-strict "Top Secret" rank and one above the bottom tier "Confidential", typically involve entry-level intelligence collection or analysis.
Coleman's letter said Human Rights Act protections against discrimination did not apply to vetting, and factors such as national origin - and the national origin of partners and relatives - as well as political opinions could prevent someone from gaining clearance.
The Herald understands the SIS are particularly sensitive over connections to China, with one source familiar with vetting saying there were not aware of anyone born in China ever being granted clearance.
A spokesperson for the SIS said they would not comment on individual cases, and their role in this case was limited to providing the initial recommendation to the NZDF.
"NZSIS would not be involved in any subsequent queries to a Chief Executive regarding security clearance decisions," the spokesperson said.
The February letter from Coleman said vetting was to ensure "truthworthiness and loyalty to New Zealand".
It required applicants to be New Zealand citizens and live in the country for 10 continuous years, or have been based in Five Eyes allies - the United States, Australia, Canada or the United Kingdom -and have a "background history that is verifiable and can be positively assessed as complete and appropriate".
Coleman noted the job had been advertised incorrectly on TradeMe, where a minimum five year period of citizenship had been mentioned, but said the applicant would not have passed even this lower bar.
"The requirement to have a background history that is verifiable and can be positively assess, would still have applied. The outcome would therefore have been the same."
Yang declined an interview with the Herald and has not spoken to English-language media since September 13 press conference given in the aftermath of the Financial Times and Newsroom breaking news about his spy school background.
Yang said in an email his involvement in this case was limited to approaching the Ministers and ceased following Coleman's letter.
"Once I had received the response, I took no further action," he said.
"I did not know the family until they approached me in February 2012 and have spoken to them only once since, at a community event when they thanked me for my help and told me they had moved on."
MORE QUESTIONS OVER CV
Official Information Act releases from the University of Auckland, prompted by Herald complaints to the Ombudsman, have also thrown up more inconsistencies in how Yang described his spy school background in China to New Zealand authorities.
Yang's curriculum vitae, supplied to the University in 1998 as part of an ultimately successful job application, makes explicit reference in his cover letter to the "PLA Foreign Languages University".
In contrast, previously-released disclosures made to Immigration New Zealand to gain residence, and Internal Affairs to gain citizenship, referred to his only attending only "Luoyang University".
Yang declined to address questions about the different ways he described his background to different authorities. "I have spoken extensively on the matter and have nothing further to add," he said.
Yan's sole comment on the matter was a September press conference where he said he was not a spy - only a lecturer and student - and he had not made any false declarations by only using generic descriptions of where he had studied or worked.
"When I left China I was asked by the system to use my partnership universities," he said.
Yang's university application also claims he gained a Masters degree in American Studies from Henan University, a qualification not included in submissions to either Immigration or Internal Affairs.
JIAN YANG'S FULL STATEMENT TO THE HERALD:
In February 2012, a constituent contacted me regarding an employment decision made by the New Zealand Defence Force.
My office forwarded the correspondence to the Minister of Labour, who subsequently transferred it to the Minister of Defence.
The Minister of Defence replied to the constituent in April 2012 and copied me into his response. You have a redacted version of that letter.
Once I had received the response, I took no further action. I had simply sought answers on the constituent's behalf through the appropriate channels, as is the responsibility of every Member of Parliament.
This is one of many constituent cases I have dealt with over the past six years. I did not know the family until they approached me in February 2012 and have spoken to them only once since, at a community event when they thanked me for my help and told me they had moved on.
It wouldn't be appropriate for me to name the applicants. MPs deal with constituent matters every day and constituents have a fair expectation of privacy.