Former National MP, and now Independent, Jami-Lee Ross, has been named today as one of the four people facing Serious Fraud Office (SFO) charges in relation to two $100,000 donations made to the National Party.
The three other defendants: Yikun Zhang, Shijia Zheng and Hengjia Zheng applied to have their interim name suppression lifted yesterday, and today in an application to the court, Ross said he too did not support continued name suppression.
The charge sheets
Charges have been laid against the four over the two donations – one made in June 2017 and June 2018. Court documents show that Ross, Zhang and Shijia Zheng each faces two joint charges of deception over both donations.
The charge sheets said that they used a “fraudulent trick or device” to break up the donations into sums less than $15,000, which were then transferred into the bank accounts of several different people, before being paid into a National Party electorate account.
It also said that happened “in circumstances where the identity of the donor was not disclosed in National’s annual return.”
Hengjia Zheng, charged with deception over the 2018 donation, was also charged with providing misleading information to the SFO.
The charge sheet said money that was paid into his bank account “was intended to be used to pay $100,000 donation to the National Party through transmitters.”
However, the SFO said that when approached, Zheng told them the money was a deposit to Anco Property Development “for building a house on the North Shore”, and then created a backdated contract.
Interim name suppression
On January 21, 2020, the lawyers for Zhang, Zheng and Zheng asked for a hearing at “extremely short notice,” called so quickly that the Judge noted counsel for various parties were “not even properly dressed for court.”
They were asking for interim name suppression, after being informed by two media outlets that they were considering naming one or all of the defendants publicly.
The SFO was represented at the hearing and said it would be unfair if the same was not extended to the fourth defendant Ross, even though he was not present, and the judge agreed name suppression would be in place for all four until the first court hearing next Tuesday (February 25, 2020).
However, yesterday the three defendants went back to the Auckland District Court, asking for name suppression to be lifted.
In a statement issued by a Public Relations firm working on their behalf, they confirmed that their application was being considered by the judge, but gave no reason.
Ross’ application to court
Today, the application filed for Ross said he “has not and does not seek interim name suppression and is happy if such orders are discharged or lapse.”
His application also said the other three had applied to have name suppression lifted “due to an apparent concern that Mr Ross, as a sitting Member of Parliament may make a statement to Parliament regarding the matter.”
“No basis for such a concern has been provided, and there is none,” it said.
“Parliament has been sitting for a week. During that time, Mr Ross has at no time indicated an intention to make a statement in Parliament or to the public regarding this matter in breach of the current orders, nor has he done so. He has complied fully with the interim orders, notwithstanding these were never sought by him.”
It said “given his role as a sitting Member of Parliament, he would prefer to be able to be open and transparent regarding the fact that he has been charged, even though he was the whistle blower – the party that made the complaint to the police.
“He is eager to publicly refute the charges and to ensure that he is not now set up as the scapegoat by those knowingly involved in any donation deception, whether they are charged and before the court or not.”
In a statement, Ross said he that he had wanted to speak openly about the charges but had been unable to because the three others charged had sought name suppression.
His statement appears separately on our website and social media.
Jane Patterson is Political Editor at Radio New Zealand. The above Report and Picture have been published under a Special Arrangement with www.rnz.co.nz
Jami-Lee Ross (RNZ Photo by Craig McCulloch)