Paintings, wine, cover-ups and a royal honor – the Crown case in the party donation process

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Both sides of the political divide are locked in a High Court case over fraudulent party donations.

Bogus donors were used and put forward by men within the National and Labor parties to disguise the real donor – businessman Yikun Zhang, who went on to receive a royal honour, the Crown says.

Former National MP Jami-Lee Ross and three businessmen – Yikun Zhang, Shija (Colin) Zheng and Hengjia (Joe) Zheng – deny all allegations related to National Party donations and are facing Judge Ian Gault in Auckland’s High Court.

Zhang and the two Zheng brothers, along with two men and a woman whose names are currently being suppressed, are being charged in connection with election donations to the Labor Party in 2017.

CONTINUE READING:
* The trio charged in the Labor Party donation case continue to seek name suppression before trial
* Businessmen charged with illegal donations to Labor and National
* Fund fraud cases against National and Labor Party to be heard together
* Fraud allegations against former National MP Jami-Leess Ross go to Supreme Court

Joe Zheng is also accused of providing false or misleading information to the Serious Fraud Office during its investigation.

From left: Yikun Zhang, Hengjia (Joe) Zheng, Shija (Colin) Zheng and Jami-Lee Ross made their first appearance before the District Court.  (file photo)

Ricky Wilson/Stuff

From left: Yikun Zhang, Hengjia (Joe) Zheng, Shija (Colin) Zheng and Jami-Lee Ross made their first appearance before the District Court. (file photo)

On Tuesday, prosecutor John Dixon QC said the case involved manipulation of the disclosure of donations to political parties.

The Crown alleges that the defendants participated in a fraud, subterfuge, ruse or ruse intended to mislead the Labor and National Party Secretaries, the Electoral Commission and the public.

All three donations were funded by Zhang, who is the real donor, Dixon said.

Zhang was helped by people inside. For the National Party that was Ross and for the Labor Party it was one of the name-suppressing men and the woman.

Jami-Lee Ross, Simon Bridges, Yikun Zhang and Colin Zheng at the Chao Shan General Association of New Zealand meeting.

delivered

Jami-Lee Ross, Simon Bridges, Yikun Zhang and Colin Zheng at the Chao Shan General Association of New Zealand meeting.

Zhang is a wealthy businessman and the founder of the Chao Shan General Association, Dixon said.

Zhang received a royal honor for services to New Zealand-Chinese relations and the Chinese community in 2018 and was striving for this honor when some donations were made.

Dixon said that was a possible justification or motive for the donations.

Colin Zheng was Zhang’s right-hand man and often communicated on Zhang’s behalf.

Ross knew Zhang was the real donor but provided the party with the names of the “bogus donors,” Dixon added.

For the Labor Party donations, one of the name-suppressing men allowed his name to be suggested for the purchase of a painting and recruited others to suggest their names as ‘bogus donors’.

“He played an active role in the cover-up,” Dixon said.

The other man was the person inside the Labor Party. The woman also helped with the cover-up, Dixon said.

Yikun Zhang, Shijia (Colin) Zheng and Hengjia (Joe) Zheng are denying charges related to the Labor Party and National Party fundraising cases.

LAWRENCE SMITH/witness

Yikun Zhang, Shijia (Colin) Zheng and Hengjia (Joe) Zheng are denying charges related to the Labor Party and National Party fundraising cases.

painting

The 2017 Labor Party donation revolves around five paintings that will be sold to different people at a sham auction for a payment of $60,000, Dixon said.

The Crown will present evidence that Zhang was the real owner of the paintings and the source of the money.

A meeting was held between the defendants prior to the purchase, at which it was agreed that Zhang would purchase the painting, but that others would be suggested as donors.

A total of US$34,840 was then sent to the Labor Party in smaller donations under five different names.

Dinner at Cibo

Two months after the work donation in March 2017, Zhang, Shijia (Colin) Zheng and Ross met at the Cibo restaurant in Parnell.

At the meeting, it was agreed that Zhang would donate $100,000, but other names would be suggested as real donors and it would be broken up into smaller chunks to get under the disclosure threshold, Dixon added.

Former National MP Jami-Lee Ross met with Yikun Zhang and Colin Zheng at Cibo in Parnell.

David White/Stuff

Former National MP Jami-Lee Ross met with Yikun Zhang and Colin Zheng at Cibo in Parnell.

In late May 2017, Ross sent Colin Zheng the Botany Electoral Party account and rules for donations.

“We will all abide by the law,” Colin Zheng reportedly said to Ross.

Numerous communications between the defendants show that Zhang wanted to donate a large amount but did not want his name to appear.

wine cases

The National Party’s second donation comes from 480 cases of red wine Zhang bought in 2018, Dixon said.

Ross and Colin Zheng began discussing a plan for Zhang to meet with Simon Bridges, who was the leader of the National Party at the time. They met for dinner on May 14th.

Ross told Bridges that Zhang was interested in a royal honor and supported both sides of politics, but leaned more towards the National Party.

More than 20 lawyers sit in a courtroom representing the Crown and various defendants in the National and Labor Party donation case.

David White/Stuff

More than 20 lawyers sit in a courtroom representing the Crown and various defendants in the National and Labor Party donation case.

A week later, at a fundraiser, Bridges saw Zhang and Colin Zheng offering to donate $100,000 to the National Party.

Joe Zheng then made seven transfers totaling $100,050 to the National Party.

Dixon said Ross acknowledged his part in the deception and took a series of undercover recordings of him talking to Bridges at the time.

“These donations were not properly declared,” Ross Bridges reportedly said.

He then made a statement to the media and spoke to police about being offered $100,000 by a wealthy Chinese businessman and asked to collect the donation.

The judge’s sole trial before Judge Ian Gault continues.

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