Labor Cabinet ministers and the ex-wife of former National MP Jami-Lee Ross testified in a Supreme Court trial this week over alleged fraudulent donations to political parties.
Ross and three businessmen — Yikun Zhang, Shijia (Colin) Zheng and Hengjia (Joe) Zheng — were charged with making donations to the National Party.
In May 2021, the three businessmen were also charged with making donations to the Labor Party. Two men and a woman, all of whom have temporary name suppression, have also been charged with those donations.
They all deny the allegations against them and stand before the High Court in Auckland, where the case concludes its second week.
* PM’s spokesman spoke to the defendant in the political donations trial
* Labor MP Michael Wood called the defendants in the political donations trial over paintings
* Ex-wife feared for Jami-Lee Ross during mental health spiral, court said
Why it matters
- This week’s trial has heard from Jami-Lee Ross’ ex-wife Lucy Schwaner, who gave insight into his mental state ahead of his infamous livestream press conference in 2018. During that press conference, Ross accused then-National leader Simon Bridges of asking him to dissolve a donation from a wealthy donor in order to make it anonymous. Schwaner said she was “very scared” for Ross and worried he would hurt himself.
- Health Secretary Andrew Little also gave testimony this week about his participation in an event in 2017 that featured a “mock” art auction. Five paintings were bought under different names, but the Crown says the real buyer was Zhang. Little said he didn’t know the auction was happening or for what purpose.
- The court this week also heard Labor MP Michael Wood, the Prime Minister’s chief press secretary Andrew Campbell and former General Secretary Andre Anderson.
- Schwaner married Ross in 2008. They separated in 2020.
- Little was leader of the Labor Party in 2017 when he attended an art auction event central to the fall of the crown.
- Wood is Labor’s transport secretary but was chief whip when the charges against the National Party were published. After the three businessmen were sued over their donations to the party, Wood was hired to call around to find out who bought the paintings at the 2017 art auction.
- Campbell and Anderson also said they wanted to check whether the businessmen accused in the National Party case had made donations to the Labor Party.
what was said
- Schwaner said Ross felt embarrassed and betrayed after being demoted from Bridges in 2018. “He felt very betrayed by Simon – he was angry with him.”
- “I’m sorry and love you and the kids,” Ross wrote to his ex-wife before holding a press conference accusing Bridges of improper dealings.
- At the 2017 event where the art auction was held, Little said he was unaware it would be a Labor Party fundraiser. “As party leader and MP, you play the role of meeting and greeting and socializing, but not to raise money. It has always been a standard and a piece of advice I have given to colleagues as a leader.”
- Wood contacted one of the name-suppression defendants about the art auction. He said he “received a general assurance that it was decent and kosher, but I could not get specific information.”
- Bridges is scheduled to be called as one of the witnesses next week.
- Ross’ assistant Katja Kershaw is also expected to testify.
- The judges-only trial before Judge Ian Gault is scheduled for a further eight weeks but is expected to conclude sooner.