Donghua Liu's alleged donations to Labour need more scrutiny. But the Police won't be the ones to do it.
The Herald on Sunday's "big reveal" about Donghua Liu's claimed $100,000 purchase back in 2007 of a bottle of wine signed by Helen Clark is forcing me to interrupt a very pleasant stay in Newcastle to make some comments. Honestly - can't you people just put things on hold for a few weeks so I can enjoy myself in peace? No consideration whatsoever.
First of all, people who are calling for the Police to get involved and investigate this matter - including my esteemed colleague and friend Bryce Edwards, my arch-nemesis and sparring partner David Farrar, and that guy who types the Dimpost - are (with the greatest of respect) spouting complete nonsense.
It simply isn't clear that any offence has been committed here at all. Let's say that everything the Herald is reporting is true (an assumption we should be a bit cautious about making - the story is based purely on a "signed statement" from Liu, not even an affadavit). He gave Labour a bunch of money in 2007 in exchange for things like a bottle of wine and a book.
Well, if you go back to the financial returns from political parties for 2007, there is listed a donation to Labour of $150,000 from "Palmer Theron, Solicitors, on behalf of an undisclosed client" (as well as two other donations of $50,000 and $30,000 from other law firms on behalf of similaraly "undisclosed clients"). For balance, you might also note that in that year National reported $40,000 in anonymous donations, as well as $513,000 from three trusts that it had been using to launder donations previously.
Now, was Liu the "undisclosed client" who gave Labour this $150,000 donation? Who, aside from Liu, can really tell? And if this was Liu, then no law was breached. If he gave the payment to Labour by way of a cheque from a solicitor's trust fund, then not only did he do nothing legally wrong, but Labour (under the laws at the time) did nothing legally wrong in accepting it or listing the solicitor's undisclosed client as being the source. That was a bad law, as I argued a lot at the time, but it was the law ... and you can't retrospectively rewrite it now.
However, even if this particular gift from an "undisclosed client" is not the donation that Liu gave and Labour really did just take and bank his money without disclosing it in any way - an action that would have been unlawful even under the laws of the time - there's a reason why the Police can't investigate the matter. The Electoral Act in 2007 contained a six-month time limit on any prosecutions for filing a false electoral return. So there is no way that the Police can take anyone to court now for any failure to disclose Liu's gift - meaning there is nothing for them to investigate.
So, sure ... if Liu is telling the truth (but see previous caution about taking this assumption as proven), Labour has an "optics problem". It has to explain how as a party it managed to completely forget that this guy was splashing around tens-of-thousands of dollars at its fundraisers a mere 7 years ago. But a legal problem? I just don't think so.