To retrace the puzzle, in brief: Mr Liu leapt into headlines on May Day when Jared Savage revealed that Maurice Williamson had called the police in relation to a domestic violence charge faced by the Chinese immigrant. It cost Williamson his ministerial warrants.
Last week, Savage delivered another scoop for the Herald: David Cunliffe had, despite denials of any connection, written a letter – albeit 11 years ago – supporting Liu’s residency application. Which added up, depending on your point of view, to potential cause for the Labour leader’s resignation or an almighty storm in a teacup.
All the while, National MPs and supporters, from the PM down, have been delightedly hinting about a putative Liu connection to Labour, including a big donation. He had, some said, signed an “affidavit”.
Today (Sunday) we learned that just a few days after Williamson’s demotion, Liu had signed – if not an affidavit proper – a written statement confirming he had “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 [in 2007]”.
The timing was curious, coming the very day after the Herald reported Liu insisting he had given “equally to Governments of both colours”. Did that prompt the release a day later of the rumoured, and at first glance contradictory, statement written a full month and a half earlier?
Labour hit back by way of a statement from party president Moira Coatsworth. Among other things, it said they could find no record of the supposed vino-donation; and that neither was there any record of a fundraiser on June 3 2007, the date they’d been told Liu cited.
Where does that leave us? As Andrew Geddis writes at Pundit, back in ye olde 2007 such a donation would not have been unlawful; nor is there any apparent cause for the Electoral Commission to investigate. (He also observes that in 2007 Labour records a $150,000 – and perfectly legal – donation from “Palmer Theron, Solicitors, on behalf of an undisclosed client”.)
But something doesn’t add up in it all.
Here are 10 theories, some plausible, some almost entirely implausible, and in no particular order.
1. Labour’s record-keeping and collective memory is woeful, and they have lost all information about the bloke who bid $100k for a bottle of wine – which is almost as forgettable as, say, a helicopter ride to a Coatesville mansion.
2. Labour’s fund-laundering was so effective that no one, or only a few who aren’t speaking, knew about it.
3. Labour, or someone connected to it, is telling porkies.
4. Someone working for Labour pocketed the dosh.
5. Someone working for Labour had too much to drink and lost the cheque.
6. Donghua Liu’s record-keeping and memory is woeful, and so is his handwriting: he wrote 100000 on the cheque stub without clearly marking the decimal point before the last two zeroes.
7. Donghua Liu is telling porkies.
8. Donghua Liu came under pressure following Maurice Williamson’s resignation and exaggerated his contribution to Labour.
9. Donghua Liu’s translator is hopeless / vengeful.
10. Donghua Liu was victim of an elaborate scam, in which a troupe of unemployed actors sported homemade red rosettes and staged a “big time fundraiser” with a keynote address from Helene Clark.
Update, Monday 7.45am: The NZ Herald‘s editor in chief, Tim Murphy, has just appeared on RNZ National’s Morning Report. Here is the interview: