What is to be done with our citizen, William Yan? His payment of nearly $43 million in settlement of a police application to confiscate assets of that value under the Criminal Proceedings Recovery Act avoids a court inquiry into alleged money laundering in China and a judicial ruling on the legality of the wealth he brought to New Zealand.

The police yesterday described the settlement, approved by a High Court judge, as "full and final, without any admission of criminal or civil liability".

So perhaps the forfeiture was merely to avoid a six-month trial. The sum, while it is the largest such settlement by an individual in New Zealand, might not be missed by someone whose gambling fund at SkyCity has topped $293 million over 12 years.

The police said: "The settlement follows a complex three-year investigation focusing on money laundering large sums allegedly derived from a series of frauds perpetrated in China between 1999 and 2001."


The manager of asset recovery for the financial crime group at Police National Headquarters, Detective Inspector Paul Hampton, described the settlement as "a significant success for New Zealand Police", reflecting an "effective working relationship between Chinese and New Zealand law enforcement agencies". The $42.85 million Yan has paid to recover his assets will be shared with China.

The police are congratulating themselves but many New Zealanders will struggle to see any success in the outcome. Yan, also known as Yong Ming Yan, Yang Liu and Bill Liu, has already made nonsense of our immigration procedures and given politicians of both parties and two governments reason to regret their association with him. He provides one more reason to remove ministers from immigration decisions concerning individuals. Had it been left to officials to decide his application for citizenship in 2005, not only would it have been refused, the permanent residency granted to him in 2002 would have been revoked. Interpol had issued an alert against him.

But Labour MP Dover Samuels pressed his case to the Labour Minister of the day, Shane Jones, and citizenship was granted. He had already cultivated support on both sides of the aisle, donating to National as well as Labour. An Audit Office inquiry found nothing wrong. The minister had been convinced Yan would be executed if he had to return to China.

The same concern could save him from being stripped of his New Zealand citizenship now, though ministers cannot revoke citizenship as easily as they can grant it. The Minister of Internal Affairs needs to be able to prove it was granted because of fraud, false representation, information deliberately concealed, or by mistake. And the law provides a right of appeal to the High Court where Yan has already been found not guilty, in 2012, of making false declarations on immigration and citizenship applications.

So there may be little more the authorities can do, except remove individual immigration applications from the power of politicians and make it less likely this appalling saga can be repeated.