1. The Stage is Set
Just over one year ago, the NZ Herald published a series of stories relating to a then-eleven year old letter written by then-Labour leader, David Cunliffe; alleged “big donations” made to the Labour Party by migrant businssman, Donghua Liu; and other assorted (and somewhat dubious) allegations of “impropriety”.
A time-line of events is outlined here: The Donghua Liu Affair: Damn lies, dirty tricks, and a docile media
Judging by the activities of the office of the Minister for Immigration; TV3 journalist, Brook Sabin; NZ Herald personnel Shayne Curry, Tim Murphy, Jared Savage, and John Armstrong; blogger Cameron Slater, and assorted right-wingers, it is also evident that there was a high degree of collusion between these parties.
One day before the Herald launched it’s “exclusive” that David Cunliffe had written an eleven year old letter on behalf of Donghua Liu, right-wing blogger “Barnsley Bill” (Russell Beaumont) posted this cryptic comment on blog, ‘The Dim Post‘;
Hours before Jared Savage’s story (David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid) went live on-line at 2.29PM, Twitter chatter between the Herald’s Editor, Shayne Currie, and sundry right-wing characters were gleefully anticipating the release;
Some Tweets have been deleted by their authors – but the screenshot above is a permanent record of the conversation. (Acknowledgement to co-writer, ‘Hercules’, for uncovering this part of the story.)
But the ‘clincher’ was this post, on far-right blog, ‘Whaleoil‘, published at 12.57PM – an hour and a half before the Herald published Savage’s story at 2.29PM;
See full story revealed here: The Donghua Liu Affair: The Players Revealed
Even the Prime Minister could not resist chipping in with his own “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” reference to being privy to more information, as he stated the following morning (19 June) after Savage’s story went live. As Savage reported;
Speaking from the East Lawn at the United Nations this morning, Mr Key said he had heard rumours that Mr Liu had given more that $15,000.
“I’ve heard the rumours and we’ll see what actually comes out but I’d be very, very amazed if the amount is $15,000,” he told New Zealand reporters.
Key’s reference to “$15,000” related to allegations made by the Herald that Liu paid that amount for a book autographed by then-Labour leader, Helen Clark. On 16 June, Savage wrote;
But the Herald can reveal Liu, 53, also paid $15,000 at a Labour Party auction in 2007 for a book signed by Helen Clark, the Prime Minister at the time, according to a party source.
On 22 June, Herald journalist,
Millionaire businessman Donghua Liu 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, which the Herald on Sunday has obtained.
The Herald’s sole informant was migrant businessman, Donghua Liu. (More on this point later.)
But only three days later, as Labour hit back demanding evidence of Liu’s claims and pressure mounted on the Herald to “put up or shut up”, a new, revised, statement appeared;
Liu, to whom Labour gave permanent residency against official advice, says his earlier signed statement on the wine auction was “capable of two meanings” and after repeated inquiries from the Herald he says he wants to clarify what he spent the $100,000 on.
He said the figure was the total payments to Labour and its politicians which included the wine auctions, a $2000 donation to the Hawkes Bay Rowing Club, the Yangtze River trip and anonymous donations to MPs.
“I have no reason to inflate this number. It’s as best as I can remember,” said Liu.
The Herald’s back-tracking continued when this editorial appeared on 27 June 2014;
The editorial bluster continued until the un-named author came to the salient point;
“At the weekend, the Herald on Sunday reported from a signed statement by Liu in which he appeared to claim he spent $100,000 on wine at a Labour fundraiser and $50,000-$60,000 hosting former Labour MP Rick Barker in China. The paper verified the document was from Liu and put its claims to Mr Cunliffe and the Labour Party.
On Wednesday, Liu provided the Herald with another statement, after being pressed for more detail, in which he corrected his previous implication that $100,000 was paid for a bottle of wine and limited his total spend on Labour and its MPs when it was in power to “close to $100,000”.
The Herald immediately published his clarification, with prominence on our website, where it remains, and amended the Herald on Sunday story online. The Sunday paper will publish a clarification this weekend.
Liu’s mis-statement, however, has been grasped as proof of Herald complicity in a plot against Labour. The claim is risible, across the range of political coverage but also explicitly over the Herald’s investigation of National and Labour and their damaging cosiness with Donghua Liu.
We regret having reported inflated and conflated dollar figures.”
On-line public commentary following the editorial was scathing and in no mood to be mollified by this Clayton’s apology (if that is what it was intended to be). No wonder it was eventually closed down.
3. Press Council Complaint & Consequence
On 5 July 2014, I laid a complaint with the Press Council regarding the nature and content of the Herald stories. The complaint referred to several Herald articles omitting to mention Cunliffe’s letter being eleven years old; that no evidence had been presented to support Liu’s claim he had paid $15,000 for a book , nor $100,000 for a bottle of wine; that the Herald had not released the full text of Liu’s signed statement, and other examples of misreporting and lack of evidence.
(Full text of complaint here.)
On 21 August 2014, the Press Council deliberations yielded it’s decision.
Despite the complaint against the Herald being dismissed by the Press Council (hardly a surprise), it is noteworthy that the Council did issue one admonishment against the paper;
We accept in part the criticism from both Mrs Lyons and Mr Macskasy regarding the reliance on information from Mr Liu only, including his signed statement. It can correctly be distinguished from the Cunliffe letter released under the Official Information Act. We do not consider there is any obligation on a newspaper to publish it in full. While they were entitled to rely on such a statement as part of the factual basis when reporting the paper failed to adhere to a basic tenet of journalism…the need to have confirmation from a second source.
(Full text of Decision here.)
In fact, the entire series of stories emanated from just one man: Donghua Liu. Not only was the businessman’s story uncorroborated, but the Herald was reluctantly forced to concede that several of Liu’s “facts” were simply incorrect.
There is also the strange involvement of Cameron Slater, Russell Beaumont, and other sundry assorted right-wing characters, who were party to the Herald’s story.
On top of which was the even stranger fact that the Herald’s OIA request (made by Jared Savage on 16 June 2014) into Donghua Liu’s immigration was processed within 48 hours – a feat unheard of when it comes to Official Information requests.
(Full text of Immigration NZ letter here. Full story here.)
4. The Herald’s Promises of more “evidence” and “details” to come
Part of the Herald’s defence was that the Donghua Liu investigation was on-going and more revelations were to follow. The following comments by the Herald’s then-editor-in-chief promised the following;
Tim Murphy, email to Frank Macskasy, 27 June 2014
“We are continuing to investigate the payments from Donghua Liu and the circumstances of his various migration approvals.”
Tim Murphy, email to Frank Macskasy, 4 July 2014
“We fully expect further details to come will show the Herald’s earlier reporting to have, as we have known throughout, been accurate and soundly based.”
Murphy made similar commitments to the NZ press Council as part of their defence against complaints in the handling of Dongthua Liu’s allegations;
Tim Murphy, email, 7 July 2014 & NZ Herald statement to NZ Press Council, 15 July 2014;
“We stand by our report that a book was purchased and expect further ‘evidence’ of this to be made public shortly.”
Tim Murphy, ibid
“You seem to have accepted without question MP Rick Barker’s claim he attended only a staff party in China. We do not accept this and expect further details of the hospitality for him and others in China to be revealed in due course.”
To date, no further evidence, nor details, have been forth-coming.
I wrote to Shayne Currie, the Herald’s recently-appointed editor, asking;
It is now one year on from the Donghua Liu Affair, which ranged from 18 June 2014, to 27 June 2014, when several allegations were made regarding David Cunliffe, Rick Barker, and the NZ Labour Party.
At least one of those allegations (a so-called “$100,000 bottle of wine”) was retracted by your paper. Another allegation, of a so-called “$15,000 book signed by Helen Clark”, was never proven.
Two complaints to the NZ Press Council were, for the most part, not upheld, though your paper was roundly criticised for sole reliance on only one source (Donghua Liu), and not confirmed from a second source. The Press Council stated in it’s findings that this was a failure of a basic tenet of journalism.
On several occassions, the then-editor of the Herald, Tim Murphy, stated that the investigation into this story was on-going and expected further details and evidence to emerge.
I refer you to statements made by Murphy;
[See statements above by Tim Murphy]
As it has now been exactly one year since the Donghua Liu Affair, are you able to advise me as to what further “details” and “evidence” the Herald’s “continuing investigations” have uncovered?
I will be seeking comment from other ‘players’ in this story, and felt it fair that I seek your comments as well, to present some degree of balance.
I will be happy to present any comment you wish to make, verbatim.
As this story is published, Currie has not replied to my emailed questions.
5. A response from Labour’s Mike Williams
Former Labour Party President, Mike Williams, was more forthcoming when I questioned him on the Donghua Liu Affair. On 8 July, Williams told me;
“I was incensed by this. Because if the Labour Party had picked up $150,000 I would’ve known about it.”
This was all founded on bullshit. There were no donations from Donghua Liu. Not a cent.”
Williams was scathing of the manner of the Herald’s reporting of Donghua Liu’s claims;
“This story was just total bullshit, it was front page bullshit. They kind of withdrew from it, but it did damage the Labour Party at a time when it didn’t need much damage.
There’s gotta be a withdrawal or apology, I would have thought.”
In a previous chapter of the Donghua Liu Affair (The OIA Gambit), ‘Hercules’ and I wrote;
What appears to be an orchestrated Beehive plot to dig dirt for throwing at Labour leader, David Cunliffe, ahead of a crucial parliamentary debate is revealed in a paper trail linking Immigration Minister, Michael Woodhouse, and the Parliamentary Press Gallery offices of the New Zealand Herald and TV3.
Hatched in National’s anticipation of a hammering in a debate on Wednesday 18 June (note the date) prompted by the resignation of ACT leader, John Banks, the plot was pivotal on having Cunliffe first deny helping Auckland businessman Donghua Liu with his residency application – before producing an eleven-year-old letter from Immigration’s files as proof that the Opposition leader was either a liar or had suffered serious brain fade.
On its own, the letter was innocuous…
…What is certain is that the real reason for the urgent 48-hour response to the OIA requests was to ensure that the Cunliffe letter was in the public domain by midday on Wednesday 18 June.
The same day that the government was facing a torrid questioning by the Opposition after the conviction and resignation of ACT MP, John Banks. A government that desperately needed a credible diversion. Relying on another beneficiary-bashing story from Paula Bennett was simply not tenable.
This was the a Dirty Trick of the highest order, involving an eleven year old letter; complicit media looking for another easy sensational news story; Ministers with connections to right wing bloggers; and journalists who run with the pack instead of asking questions that might yield real answers.
As they say in law enforcement circles; Motive. Means. Opportunity.
The government had all three.
This was the real story behind the Donghua Liu Affair.
However, there is more to it than that.
The motivation of the National government to smear and destroy David Cunliffe’s credibility is fairly obvious. With National facing an election later that year (2014), a resurgent Labour Party led by a new leader was the last thing they needed.
But there were two other players in this Affair…
6B. Donghua Liu
As I wrote in a previous chapter on this Affair (The impending final act and curtain-fall in this smear-campaign), the Herald came into possession of the first of two statements by Donghua Liu (neither of which have ever been released publicly, despite ongoing demands for transparency);
The date on Liu’s “signed statement” – 3 May – was only two days after Maurice Williamson’s enforced resignation after being found out attempting to influence a police investigation into Liu’s assault on two women.
The close timing of Williamson’s resignation and the date on Liu’s “signed statement” was a critical mistake on the part of those responsible for this smear campaign. It ties the two events together. I believe Key’s senior media strategist, Jason Ede, and right-wing blogger, Cameron Slater were probably involved.
The motive for the smear campaign was an act of utu, in retaliation for Labour prosecuting revelations against Maurice Williamson.
Interestingly, the Herald political reporter who wrote the Donghua Liu stories made a passing reference to Maurice Williamson as well, in an email to me dated 17 July, last year;
It all started with queries about his citizenship while the Nats were in power, against advice, specifically after Maurice Williamson writing an email in support in 2010…it eventually led to Mr Williamson’s resignation as a Minister for intervening in a police matter and the discovery that Liu was also lobbying Immigration Minister Woodhouse to change policy. – Jared Savage, email, Thu, Jul 17, 2014 at 11:27 PM
From several media reports, it seemed clear that the relationship between Donghua Liu and Maurice Williamson was more than just a formal MP-Constituent relationship. They appeared to be good friends;
Liu, who has close ties with the minister, was arrested in December last year following a domestic violence incident… He had previously lobbied his colleagues to grant Liu citizenship against official advice. Liu’s citizenship was approved in 2010 by then Internal Affairs Minister Nathan Guy. He later made a $22,000 donation to the National Party. – TV3, 1 May 2014
“National MP Maurice Williamson lobbied a ministerial colleague to give New Zealand citizenship “as fast as possible” to a wealthy businessman – then conducted the ceremony himself the day after citizenship was granted against the recommendation of officials.The urgent VIP ceremony, believed to have taken place in Mr Williamson’s electoral office, is another close link between the former Minister and millionaire property developer Donghua Liu, who has donated $22,000 to the National Party previously. – NZ Herald, 1 May 2014
He [Maurice Williamson] later revealed that Liu owned a bach next to his family’s house at Pauanui, and the MP had used the property and performed minor repair work on the house when Liu was in China.“I’m a fan of being a handyman and the house was good to be able to use while we were doing it,” he told Campbell Live.Mr Williamson recommended the neighbouring holiday home to Liu when it went on the market. He also said he had eaten dinner with Liu as part of a group five or six times. – Otago Daily Times, 2 May 2014
When Williamson resigned his ministerial portfolio on 1 May 2014, Donghua Liu no doubt noticed his friend’s misfortune, and conveniently supplied his statement to the NZ Herald three days later.
Donghua Liu could not have been too happy at the downfall of his ‘mate’, and was eager to exact revenge against the Labour leader, David Cunliffe.
One of the few remaining questions is; who put him (Liu) up to it? Who could have prompted a migrant businessman, with poor command of the english language, to make a formal statement, and ensure it made it’s way to the Herald’s offices?
It had to be someone well-connected with the National government; who had experience with ‘dirty tricks’; links with media; and who has/had a working relationship with right-wing blogger, Cameron Slater (who, don’t forget, published Jared Savage’s Donghua Liu story on Whaleoil one and a half hours before it appeared on the Herald’s own website!).
I think we all know who fits that ‘job description‘.
6C. NZ Herald
If, as evidence indicates, the Donghua Liu story was a cunningly concocted smear-campaign run by the National Party to discredit David Cunliffe, they needed someone – a willing ‘patsy’ – to make the allegations of “hidden donations”. That man was Donghua Liu, loyal friend of disgraced Minister, Maurice Williamson.
They also needed a compliant media outlet who could be ‘tipped’ off about Cunliffe’s 2003 letter on behalf of Donghua Liu. That media outlet would be the NZ Herald. More specifically, Jared Savage, who has admitted to regular contact with right-wing blogger, Cameron Slater.
How did Herald Reporter, Jared Savage, know to lodge an OIA request on 16 June 2014 with Immigration Minister Woodhouse’s office, seeking, “Any correspondence, including emails, letters or queries, from any Members of Parliament in regards to Donghua Liu’s immigration status prior to 2005″.
Why was Savage’s OIA request granted within 48 hours – a feat unheard off when it come to this government responding to OIA requests by journalists, bloggers, members of the public, etc. (See: The OIA Gambit)?
Was the Herald knowingly complicit in a smear campaign against David Cunliffe?
This blogger thinks not.
In which case, what was the Herald’s involvement?
Simply put, National’s “black ops” team manufactured a story against Cunliffe using a twelve year old letter, and a bogus statement (note; it was not a signed, witnessed affidavit, which has greater legal standing than simply a signed statement) by a friend of Maurice Williamson – Donghua Liu.
Through Jared Savage, the Herald was offered an “exclusive”, despite having no corroborating evidence nor a second source to back up Liu’s claims – a fact pointed out by the Press Council as a critical mistake. Remember that the NZ Press Council, in it’s decision (see: The Press Council’s decision) on complaints laid against the Herald, stated;
While they were entitled to rely on such a statement [from Liu] as part of the factual basis when reporting the paper failed to adhere to a basic tenet of journalism…the need to have confirmation from a second source.
There could be no “second source”. Because it was all a concocted lie.
Whether or not the Herald’s editor at the time (Tim Murphy), Shayne Currie, or Jared Savage suspected that the Donghua Liu story was a pack of lies is moot.
What is indisputable is that the Herald was handed – on a plate – an exclusive story that ultimately aided in the destruction of David Cunliffe’s political career.
For the NZ Herald, that was the “pay off”; an exclusive story. They were not going to turn away from such a sensational story – especially when a competitor such as TV3 could run with it.
Shayne Currie and Tim Murphy may have been aware that Liu’s claims were bogus, but they were willing to sacrifice their journalistic integrity to throw caution to the wintry winds of Wellington’s politics and run with it anyway.
The fact that the Herald’s current editor, Shayne Currie, has not made any form of reply to my email indicates that the Donghua Liu Affair is a story that they would rather quietly ‘went away’.
It is a unusual when a media outlet will not defend it’s own and one has to ask the obvious question – why?
Because the Donghua Liu Affair, as reported by the Herald in June and July last year, was a fabrication from beginning to end.
Otherwise, where is the new ‘evidence’ and ‘details’ promised by then-editor, Tim Murphy? Like Liu’s claims, Murphy’s promises were empty.
Tim Murphy was given an opportunity to answer questions relating to the Donghua Liu Affair. A near-identical email to the one sent to Shayne Currie has not been responded to.
On 16 June this year – nearly the exact anniversary of the Herald publishing it’s first Donghua Liu story on 18 June 2014 – all domestic violence charges were dropped against Mr Liu.
NZ Herald: David Cunliffe wrote letter supporting Liu’s residency bid
NZ Herald: John Armstrong: Cunliffe’s resignation may be in order
NZ Herald: Businessman gifts $150k to Labour Party
The Dim Post: June Polls – Barnsley Bill
Twitter: Shayne Currie @ShayneCurrieNZH
Whaleoil: BREAKING – David Cunliffe’s career, such as it was, is over [ UPDATED ]
NZ Herald: Key on Liu-Labour Link – More to come
NZ Herald: Under-fire donor gave to Labour too
NZ Herald: Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations
TV3: Maurice Williamson resigns as minister
NZ Herald: Maurice Williamson conducted citizenship ceremony himself
Otago Daily Times: Williamson used Liu’s holiday home
NZ Herald: Editorial – Ministers and immigration shouldn’t mix
Fairfax media: Jason Ede still has Beehive access
NZ Herald: Jason Ede resigns from the National Party after Dirty Politics scandal
NZ Herald: Collins resigns – Jared Savage and Fran O’Sullivan respond
NZ Herald: Domestic violence charges against millionaire businessman dropped
Previous related blogposts
The Donghua Liu Affair: Damn lies, dirty tricks, and a docile media
The Donghua Liu Affair threatens to unravel – PM and NZ Herald caught up in a dirty trick campaign?
The Donghua Liu Affair: the impending final act and curtain-fall in this smear-campaign
The Donghua Liu Affair: The first step to a complaint to the Press Council
The Donghua Liu Affair: responses from NZ Herald and Prime Minister’s Office – Is the PM’s office fudging?
The Donghua Liu Affair: Evidence of Collusion between the NZ Herald and Immigration NZ?
The Donghua Liu Affair: the Press Council’s decision
The Donghua Liu Affair: The OIA Gambit
The Donghua Liu Affair: The Players Revealed
The Donghua Liu Affair: One Year On
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 10 July 2015.
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