William Yan outside the Pullman Hotel where he lives. Photo: NZ Herald
One of New Zealand's most controversial citizens will forfeit nearly $43 million to the police following a money-laundering inquiry.
The New Zealand Herald this morning revealed William Yan - also known as Bill Liu, Yang Liu and Yong Ming Yan - struck a deal as the final settlement in a civil case two years after the police raided his Metropolis penthouse.
Most of the settlement is secret but the police have now issued a press release with some of the key details.
"In accordance with the settlement, the High Court has made assets forfeiture orders in respect of property to the total value of $42.85 million.
"This is the single largest forfeiture that has occurred in New Zealand to date and is the first that relates to crimes alleged to have occurred in China.
"The activity underlying the forfeiture orders is alleged money laundering.
Proceedings were commenced against William Yan and Wei You in August 2014. Restraining orders were obtained over various items of property associated with the couple, including a penthouse apartment in central Auckland, a number of luxury vehicles, and substantial shareholdings.
Related proceedings were initiated in December 2013 against Yingzi Zeng and Shui Yong Huang, who are associates of Mr Yan.
"They were alleged to have assisted in money laundering and various property associated with them was restrained, including three Auckland properties, a Porsche and Maserati, and over $4.5 million bank funds.
"Once the settlement sum has been paid, the restrained properties, vehicles, shareholdings and third party assets will be released from the restraining orders.
The settlement follows a complex three year investigation undertaken by the Waikato Asset Recovery Unit focusing on money laundering large sums of funds allegedly derived from a series of frauds allegedly perpetrated in China between 1999 and 2001.
"This is a significant success for New Zealand Police," says Detective Inspector Paul Hampton, Manager Asset Recovery/Financial Crime Group, Police National Headquarters.
"The outcome in this case reflects the effective working relationship between Chinese and New Zealand law enforcement agencies," says Mr Hampton.
The next process will be determining how the recovered monies will be shared between the New Zealand and Chinese Governments.
The settlement dwarfs the previous largest judgment against one individual under the criminal proceeds law which was $5.1m. The 45-year-old has not been charged with money-laundering offences and continues to deny any wrongdoing.
Millions of dollars of assets belonging to Yan and his wife Vienna You were frozen in 2014 as New Zealand detectives worked closely with Chinese authorities, who claim Yan stole $129 million in a complex fraud.
Court documents allege Yan concealed the fortune in New Zealand through complex money laundering transactions, where property and shares in companies were held by trusts and companies in other people's names.
Those assets, including the luxury apartment, an 18.8 per cent stake in Mega, a North Shore property development and Waikato farmland will now be released after Yan agreed to pay $42.85m in a record forfeiture judgment.
The assets were restrained under the Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act, which essentially forces someone to prove how an asset was paid for.
These cases are determined by the civil level of proof, the "balance of probabilities", rather than the much higher criminal evidential threshold of "beyond reasonable doubt".
It remains to be seen whether China will now formally seek the extradition of Yan, who holds New Zealand citizenship.
Prime Minister John Key revealed the wealthy businessman was ranked fifth on China's Top 100 most wanted list soon after meeting with President Xi Jinping earlier this year.
The $43m settlement is the latest twist in a saga dating back to 2001 when Yan arrived in New Zealand.
He first made headlines for his links to the previous Labour government and the decision to give him a New Zealand passport, despite having multiple identities and an Interpol alert against his name.
Former Labour Minister Shane Jones overruled the advice of DIA officials, who said Yan did not meet the good character test for citizenship, following lobbying from Dover Samuels, a Labour MP at the time.
Yan later stood trial in the High Court at Auckland in May 2012 on five charges relating to false declarations on immigration and citizenship papers.
Justice Timothy Brewer acquitted him despite saying the evidence "proves a situation that is highly suspicious".
The Auditor-General later investigated how Yan came to be granted citizenship, and criticised Jones, but found no evidence of wrongdoing. The politician said he believed Yan would be executed if sent back to China.
Yan has said he made his fortune legitimately as a businessman and the two identities he came to New Zealand with, Yong Ming Yan and Yang Liu - are valid because he was fostered out by his birth parents in China.
Both sets of parents registered him as part of their household with different names and dates of birth, said Yan, and the Chinese Government considers him an enemy because he is associated with Falun Gong and is pro-democracy.
Two years after his acquittal, Yan again came to the attention of police when detectives found a note as part of an inquiry focused on a group of VIP high rollers at SkyCity.
Handwritten in Chinese, the note authorised the purchase of $1.85 million worth of shares in a company registered in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands and was signed by Yang Liu.
That caught the attention of Operation Galaxy detectives, who also know him by other names - Bill Liu to his friends, Yong Ming Yan according to Chinese authorities and William Yan on his New Zealand passport.
But the resurfacing of his name in Operation Galaxy triggered a fresh look at the dormant allegations of fraud in China and his business dealings in New Zealand, culminating in another police raid on his penthouse in the Metropolis tower in August 2014.
The investigation also uncovered Yan's astonishing SkyCity records where he gambled $293 million over a 12-year period - despite being banned twice for two years and losing a total of $23 million.