Former National MP Jami-Lee Ross is one of the four men charged by the Serious Fraud Office in the National Party donations case – alongside a Chinese community leader who reportedly gave $100,000 to the party, and two others.
Name suppression for Ross and his co-accused Zhang Yikun, Zheng Shijia, and Zheng Hengjia was lifted by the Auckland District Court on Wednesday afternoon after the latter trio applied to end the secrecy. Ross’ lawyers did not object.
Ross was the originator of a complaint in 2018 to the police over a $100,000 donation he had publicly claimed showed his former party leader Simon Bridges was corrupt. The police referred the matter to the SFO but in January it was Ross, not Bridges or other National figures, who was among those charged.
It goes without saying that Ross and the others have yet to have their day in court, and we should hold off assumptions of guilt until after the trial.
But it is worth noting that as far as own goals go, I can’t think of a bigger backfire in NZ political history. You announce that you are going to the Police to lay a complaint about your former leader, and you end up being the one charged with imprisonable offences. You can’t blame this on some conspiracy of political enemies – it is a spectacular own goal.
Legal counsel for the three defendants Zhang, Zheng and Zheng issued a press statement saying:
“Our clients are fully aware of the public interest in this case and the need to respect the integrity of the New Zealand electoral system. It is for this reason they have asked for name suppression to be lifted and for the process surrounding the charges to be open and transparent.
“Our clients are proud New Zealanders and philanthropists. They were urged to follow a process and are now deeply disappointed at being caught up in a donation’s fiasco. They have supported numerous community groups over many years through fundraising activities and donations, including donating to many political parties and campaigns.”
This will be a very interesting case. If a $100,000 donation was illegally split up to avoid disclosure, then there should be serious legal consequences for those involved.
And again if what the SFO alleges did occur, what I would be interested to learn is whose idea was it. Why did they not just make $100,000 donation and have it disclosed? Dozens and dozens of other individuals make donations above the disclosure limit and are happy to be disclosed. The 2017 return for National has several dozen donors listed.
I’m not sure when the trial will be, but I will be very interested in the evidence.