Williamson resigns as minister over call to police after Donghua Liu charged

Maurice Williamson says he has no intention of resigning as an MP despite being forced to resign as minister after allegedly interfering in a police investigation involving a large National Party donor, Donghua Liu.

Mr Williamson, a National MP since 1987, resigned as a minister after it was revealed he called police investigating a domestic violence incident involving Mr Liu, whose citizenship he had lobbied for.

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Mr Liu was charged with assaulting a woman and assault with intent to injure after an incident at a Newmarket hotel. He appeared at a Family Violence Court at Auckland District Court in December and was bailed to his $2 million Auckland home.

Prime Minister John Key announced his acceptance of the minister’s resignation this morning.

At a press conference this afternoon, Mr Williams told reporters he will not be giving up the Pakuranga seat he has held for 27 years.

"I've been selected as the candidate here in Pakuranga. I feel I probably let the good people of this electorate down a bit with this, but I hope they'll put their trust back in me. They always have," he said.

"I hope to regain that trust and I'll be standing in the next election."

Mr Williamson said he had not tried to influence the police. He said he was contacted by someone who knew the family about the domestic violence incident and contacted police to find out the status of his case..

"When I hung up I literally did not see that that was anything other than what a member of parliament would normally do," he said.

"It is clear to me now that that was an error of judgment and regardless of what I actually said, it could be interpreted I was trying to influence the issue."

Earlier today Mr Key said he will appoint a new minister outside the cabinet early next week and in the meantime, Nick Smith will act in the building and construction portfolio, Nathan Guy in land information, and Simon Bridges in customs and statistics.

“I have been made aware that Mr Williamson contacted police some time ago regarding their investigation of Mr Donghua Liu,” Mr Key said. “Mr Williamson has assured me that he did not in any way intend to influence the Police investigation.

“However, Mr Williamson’s decision to discuss the investigation with police was a significant error of judgment.

“The independence of police investigations is a fundamental part of our country’s legal framework.

“Mr Williamson’s actions have been very unwise as they have the potential to bring that independence into question.

“I have advised the Governor General to accept Mr Williamson’s resignation as a minister.

Mr Key says in a statement he plans to address the resignation and surrounding events at a press conference in Auckland later today.

Outsider
Mr Williamson was a minister outside the cabinet, with responsibility for the portfolios of building and construction, land information, customs and statistics.

He is one of National’s most senior MPs, being first elected in 1987. He and Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully are the only remainders from that intake.

Mr Williamson was not a “high flyer” in Prime Minister John Key’s government – despite his seniority, he was kept outside the full cabinet and was given mostly minor portfolios.

His name has often been mentioned as a  candidate for the Auckland mayoralty, replacing Len Brown, though locals believe it is more likely that  Phil Goff will be the next mayoral candidate.

Mr Williamson plans to hold a press conference at 1.30pm.

Connection to Mr Liu

Mr Williamson has previously lobbied -- against official advice -- to grant Mr Liu citizenship. The wealthy businessman is behind a proposed $70 million hotel project to rejuvenate a run-down site in Newmarket.

The proposal stalled after Mr Liu unsuccessfully lobbied to loosen business immigration rules for wealthy foreigners, which Mr Williamson also supported.

He was arrested after an incident involving his partner and her mother at the Boulevard Hotel late last year. He pleaded not guilty to assaulting a woman and assault with intent to injure.

Mr Liu was granted citizenship in 2010 after Mr Williamson and Auckland mayor John Banks lobbied Internal Affairs minister Nathan Guy. One of Mr Liu's companies donated $22,000 to the National Party some time after citizenship was granted.

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