The Donghua Liu Affair threatens to unravel – PM and NZ Herald caught up in a dirty trick campaign?
On 23 June, I described a sequence of events relating to business migrant, Donghua Liu, which culminated in the NZ Herald’s publication of an eleven year old letter written by David Cunliffe, to Immigration NZ. The letter, as we all know by now, was fairly innocuous;
“I have been approached by my constituent Donghua Lui [sic] who is concerned at the time it is taking to process his Investment Category application.
Mr Liu’s [sic] application was accepted for processing by the Business Migration Branch on 13 August 2002.
Mr Lui [sic] wishes to set up a joint venture including Well Lee Ltd, Equus Hawk o8 ltd and Tan Long Property Development Co Ltd who will export large quantities of agricultural and horticultural products to China.
It is hope that products from the company will be available to the market in July 2003.
I am aware of the difficulties facing the Business Migration Branch of New Zealand Immigration Services in coping with the overwhelming numbers of applicants that have applied for consideration under these categories and the time taken to verify documents. However it would be very helpful to Mr Liu to be advised of an estimated period of time period [sic] in which he could expect a decision on his case.
Your assistance in this matter is appreciated.
MP for New Lynn”
Trying as hard the National Party and it’s friends in right-wing blogs and mainstream media could, the public could not get too ‘antsy’ about a letter written more than a decade ago. When the letter was published, 99% of readers could see for themselves that, far from “advocating” for Liu, it simply asked the ordinary question; “ However it would be very helpful to Mr Liu to be advised of an estimated period of time period [sic] in which he could expect a decision on his case.”
It was the sort of letter every MP has written to a government department. The same government departments which, as an article of faith, are always “inefficient” and “slow” to respond to taxpayers’ needs, according to right-wingers.
2. NZ Herald
Not so innocuous though was the subsequent “signed statement”, by Donghua Liu, which the NZ Herald supposedly has in it’s possession.
This “signed statement” is notable for the following;
2. It was allegedly written on 3 May – two days after the forced resignation of Maurice Williamson, as a minister in this government. This was confirmed by NZ Herald editor, Tim Murphy, speaking on Radio NZ’s “Morning Report“ on 23 June which seemingly confirmed Liu’s motivation in penning this document,
“His reaction was, in writing this, I understand, was in light of the Maurice Williamson affair and Labour’s claims immediatly after that.”
3. The document Liu has signed is described by the NZ Herald as a “signed statement” – not an affidavit. An affidavit is covered under the Evidence Act 2006. Signing an affidavit knowing it to be false carries legal penalties. Signing a “statement” is not covered under the Act and has few consequences – except for defamation purposes (more on that point in a moment).
4. The NZ Herald published an eleven year old letter written by David Cunliffe on June 18 – “after documents were released under the Official Information Act earlier today“. That online article was written by “New Zealand Herald’s investigations editor”,
5. NZ Herald editor, Tim Murphy, interviewed on Radio NZ’s “Morning Report“ on 23 June, said that the Herald received a copy of Donghua Liu’s 3 May signed statement “on Saturday” [21 June]. Murphy confirms that the document was a statement, not an affidavit. Murphy refused to say how the Herald acquired the statement.
6. When asked by Morning Report co-presenter, Susie Ferguson, why a copy of Liu’s statement had not been supplied to Labour, Murphy’s response was,
“There’s still more to be done. And there’s issues of sensitivities around it, for us. All these these things don’t get passed over […] I imagine it’ll come out but it just a matter of us working through some things first.”
7. Not only has Liu’s statement not been forwarded to Labour, but it has not been made public, in it’s entirety, either.
8. Considering that Cunliffe’s’s 2003 letter was published at lightning speed, on the same day, by the Herald – there are questions which demand an answer;
- Why has the same media outlet not published Liu’s “signed statement” as well?
- What are the “ issues of sensitivities” that Murphy referred to in his 23 June interview? What are the “things” that need to be “worked through first”?
- Why has he refused to make available to the Labour Party, a copy of the letter?
9. It seems inconceivable that a media outlet which has, as it’s main priority to publish news, is actively suppressing information that the public has a right to know. Since when did the Herald start to with-hold the news? And why?
10. Is it because Liu’s letter is defamatory, and contains allegations that are dubious and potentially actionable?
3. Donation claims
In his supposed “signed statement” – which the country has not seen or read – Liu claims that he made three donations, (as well as “entertaining previous Labour Govt minister, Rick Barker, at a dinner in 2007);
- a donation to a rowing club
- $15,000 for a book “autographed be Helen Clark“
- $100,000 for four bottles/1 bottle of wine, again “autographed by Helen Clark“
On 24 June, the Herald confirmed that that Liu donated $2,000 to the Hawkes Bay Rowing Club. Journalist, Jared Savage (more on him in a moment), declared triumphantly,
A donation from Donghua Liu to a rowing club linked to a former Labour Cabinet minister has been confirmed…
The confirmation comes after Labour has denied other allegations in the signed statement from Liu, including the claim he paid “close to $100,000” for wine at fundraising auctions.
Liu’s claims of donations to Labour include a signed statement saying he paid close to $100,000 for wine at an auction fundraiser in 2007.
The Herald has also been told he paid $15,000 for a book signed by Helen Clark, Prime Minister at the time. Labour says it has so far been unable to find records of the donations.
It took less than 45 minutes for two prominent right-wing bloggers to trumpet victory;
“Labour have been basically suggesting Liu is mistaken or a liar. They should be very worried that this minor donation has been confirmed, because if he is correct on a $2,000 donation, it is unlikely he’s got around a $100,000 donation.” – Kiwiblog
“Mr Liu has started that process, by confirming one of the donations….if one is correct perhaps the rest are too. Jared Savage continues his death by a 1000 cuts on Labour.” – Whaleoil
Whaleoil’s blogpost is timed at 3.13pm – precisely 15 minutes after Jared Savage’s article went on-line on the Herald website. Fast work, eh?
However, it is fairly obvious that simply because one donation has been confirmed, does not mean that the remaining two are also authentic. Thus far, Labour’s hierarchy has adamantly insisted that (a) no fund raising events were held on the date Liu has given (3 June 2007); that the date itself – a long weekend – is not normally one used for fund-raising events; and (c) they can find absolutely no records of any $100,000 bottle/bottles of wine or book being auctioned.
If those events did occur, it would be pointless for Labour President Moira Coatsworth and Labour Leader David Cunliffe to be lying about them. It would be a matter of time before they would become public knowledge.
Of course neither Coatsworth nor Cunliffe could have known about any donation to a rowing club – Liu was a private citizen so why should the Labour hierarchy have know about where he was splashing his money around?
For Farrar, Slater, and Savage not to make that point suggests that none of them are interested in the truth so much as promoting an agenda.
With Savage, that agenda is “saving face”, after investing so much of his time on this story. The Herald has ‘pinned it’s colours to the mast’ and is committed to painting Labour as the “villain” in this story. Others at the Herald have potentially staked their journalistic careers on a set outcome to this Affair.
With Slater and Farrar, I suspect it is much, much more.
It is my honestly held belief that one or both of those two apparatchiks of the National Party are somehow more deeply involved in this affair than has been admitted.
4. A response from Jared Savage
Following publication of my previous blogpost (The Donghua Liu timeline – Damn lies, dirty tricks, and a docile media), where I wrote;
“It is my sincerest, honestly-held belief, that this smear campaign was orchestrated deep within the National Party, and that at least two well known National Party apparatchiks were involved.
It is my sincerest, honestly-held belief, that Donghua Liu was persuaded to participate in this scheme around early May, when he signed his statement. It is my sincerest, honestly-held belief, that he was offered, in return, that charges against him for assaulting two women, would either be dropped, or “no evidence presented” at the Court case.”
– Herald journalist, Jared Savage responded shortly after, on Twitter;
But, Savage told only part of the story (to be fair, Twitter is not the right vehicle for detailed responses).
Donghua Liu did indeed plead guilty on 1 April this year – one month earlier than Williamson’s resignation. So there could be no “deal” between Liu and National Party apparatchiks, as the event did not arise until a month later.
The facts are that;
14 March: Donghua Liu arrested and charged with domestic violence assault on two women.
1 April: Liu pleads guilty. But Liu is not sentenced straight away. His sentencing “has been adjourned for 10 weeks so Liu can attend a stopping-violence course“.
1 May: Williamson resigns his ministerial posts.
10 June: Liu’s lawyer, Todd Simmonds, stated that he would seek a discharge without conviction for his client.
22 August: Liu set to be sentenced.
5. The Prime Minister
For the following two days, Key revelled in the bad publicity for Labour;
“We’ve seen David Cunliffe and Grant Robertson in the last six months holding the blowtorch on National, expecting accountability of ministers and demanding transparency. That’s fair enough, and now the blowtorch is turned around the other way I hope they live to those standards.”
So Key knew in advance;
- that the 2003 letter existed,
- would be made public,
- and that more than $15,ooo was involved in Liu’s allegations through his “signed statement”.
Note that all this had been told – in advance – to the Prime Minister.
Which begs the questions;
- Who had access to the Prime Minister in such a way that he could be briefed, with such detail, in advance?
- What was the motivation in briefing the Prime Minister?
- Who else in the PM’s office was involved?
Whoever had the “ear” of the Prime Minister of New Zealand was of such credible standing (in the eyes of John Key), that the PM obviously took great interest in what he was being told.
And if he believed it, did he himself sight Liu’s “signed statement” as well as Cunliffe’s 2003 letter?
Could Tim Murphy, from the NZ Herald have been the source? I somehow doubt it.
This information came from those deeply involved in the Affair.
It most certainly was not Donghua Liu. He has limited english, and how much access does he have to the Prime Minister (aside from opening a non-existent four-star hotel)? And even if Liu had asked his solicitor to contact John Key – why would the PM have taken notice? It would have sounded like a crackpot conspiracy plan – and one that would have been dangerous to become associated with during an election year.
For Key to have become so involved in this Affair suggests that those involved had considerable credibility and trust.
It is also interesting to note that, of the three ministers that I lodged an OIA to on this issue – Michael Woodhouse, Bill English, and John Key – it is the Prime Minister’s office that has not responded to my request.
In the last twentyfour hours, though, it seems that Key is attempting to distance himself from this affair, speaking out publicly and demanding that Donghua Liu, “put up or shut up”;
Asked whether Mr Liu should provide evidence of his donations, Mr Key said: “Yeah, absolutely he should go ahead and do that”.
“I don’t know the merits of who’s right and who’s wrong in that case. That’s a matter for the two parties to resolve.”
It is a bit late in the day for Key to be talking about “a matter for the two parties to resolve” – as if somehow he is above petty, partisan politics. Not when all his comments have fanned the flames of this Affair. As Adam Bennett wrote for the Herald,
Mr Key and National have profited from the controversy around Liu’s claims of donations to Labour including his signed statement saying he paid close to $100,000 for wine at an auction fundraiser in 2007.
Bennett’s piece is one of a handful that have started appearing in the MSM in the twentyfour hours.
Another is this item, from Fairfax media – curiously unattributed – which, for the first time, asked a serious question, ” if the statement could have been written by a National Party figure“.
Key is now rattled. The media (or at least some, within the media) have begun to realise (belatedly, albeit), that this has been a carefully orchestrated political dirty trick.
That is why Key is now playing the Prime Ministerial Paragon of Virtue, saying that “he agreed Liu should front up with evidence of the gift“.
What seemed like a “cunning plan” at the time has slowly turned on it’s orchestrators and now real questions are being asked – like who told the Prime Minister. Key’s responses, thus far, have been evasive, and indicate that he is hiding something;
He said he would not “go through that” when asked if his source was the right-wing blogger Whaleoil and would not go into whether he had seen the transcript of Liu’s statement.
Something that, if uncovered, could lose him the election and end his political career.
Which, I suspect, Mr Key is well aware of.
1. An open letter to the NZ Herald
Kia Ora Mr Murphy,
Thus far your paper has decided not to release the Donghua Liu “signed statement”. This is unconscionable and goes against everything that newspapers are predicated upon; the freedom of the press to publish without fear or favour.
Well, you are exhibiting fear of something and appearing to favour someone.
How else can we begin to understand why you are with-holding this document from the public?
Why is it that I, a part-time blogger, with no training in journalism, and not paid a cent for my efforts, is having to ask questions and demand answers that your paper has so far been unwilling to do?
What is that your paper is hiding?
Do you not trust the public to read Donghua’s statement and come to their own conclusions?
It is a sad day for the Fourth Estate when it is seen to be with-holding facts and suppressing information.
The saddest, most depressing thing in all this? You have not been censored by an authoritarian dictatorship. You have done it to yourself.
You have broken faith with the public.
2. An open letter to Cameron Slater
Kia Ora Cam,
Well played. But you forgot one, tiny, little, itsy-bitsy thing…
New Zealand is a small country. Secrets don’t stay secret for long. So prepare to be sprung and hung out to dry.
You’ve just brought down your own favoured government and may’ve ended Key’s career.
Thank the gods you’re not on our side.
3. An open letter to the Prime Minister
Kia Ora Mr Key,
Again, well played. Strangely enough, I don’t actually blame you or begrudge you. Politics, after all, is a grubby game and we, the people, keep electing politicians willing and able to play dirty.
And who’s to know that Labour mightn’t have done the same thing had the jandal been on the other foot, eh?
But, it’s Game Over, sir.
Your party has a philosophy that is mighty big on taking Personal Responsibility. Well, it’s time to show some of that responsibility-taking.
It’s really time to answer some straight questions with straight answers. No more bullshit. No more spin. No more deflecting to what the Other Side has done.
Who told you about Cunliffe’s letter and Liu’s “signed statement”?
Who was involved in encouraging Donghua Liu to make his statement?
How did it get to the NZ Herald?
And who, in your office, was involved in this? Was it Jason Ede?
It really, really is time to come clean on this.
Because in the end, the truth will out.
4. An open letter to Jared Savage
Kia Ora Jared,
I think you should cast your attention on the cast of characters outlined above – and not on bloggers raising questions.
You’ll get better answers.
NZ Herald: Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party
Otago Daily Times: Williamson used Liu’s holiday home
NZ Herald: Labour Party hits back at donation claims
Legislation: Evidence Act 2006
Radio NZ: Newspaper stands by donation claims
NZ Herald: Liu donation to rowing club confirmed
Kiwiblog: One Liu donation confirmed
NZ Herald: Labour Party hits back at donation claims
The Standard: The middle of Queens birthday weekend? Yeah right!
Fairfax media: Labour fights new Liu donation claims
Herald on Sunday: Herald on Sunday editorial – Labour looks in serious disarray
Twitter: The Daily Blog
Ministry of Justice: Suspended sentences
Fairfax media: David Cunliffe digs in amid rumours, poll woe
Radio NZ: Cunliffe accuses Govt of smear campaign
MSN News: Key knew about Liu’s signed statement
The Daily Blog: Let’s cast the net and see what rotten fish we catch
NZ Herald: Liu should reveal his evidence, says Key
Fairfax media: Prime minister’s lips sealed on Liu leaker
Radio NZ: PM not saying who told him of claims
Radio New Zealand News: Originally aired on Hourly News, Tuesday 24 June 2014, 1PM
Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 25 June 2014.
= fs =