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Jami-Lee Ross not guilty in political donation case, businessmen found guilty

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Four men charged by the Serious Fraud Office for donations to the National Party have pleaded not guilty in their first court appearance today.
Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Former National Member of Parliament Jami-Lee Ross has been found not guilty of fraud charges related to donations to Labor and national parties.

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On Wednesday, after hearing seven weeks of evidence, Supreme Court Justice Ian Gault delivered his verdict in the trial.

Ross and three businessmen – Yikun Zhang, Shijia (Colin) Zheng and Hengjia (Joe) Zheng – were charged by the Serious Fraud Office for donations to the National Party in 2017 and 2018.

The three businessmen were also charged – alongside two men and a woman, all of whom are subject to interim name suppression – for donations to the Labor Party in 2017.

The Crown’s case at trial was that sham donors were used and put forward by men on the inside of both political parties to disguise the real donor: Zhang.

Justice Gault found Zhang not guilty of the 2017 National Party donation, but guilty of the 2018 donation.

Colin Zheng was found guilty of the 2017 and 2018 donation.

Joe Zheng was found guilty of the 2018 donation and found guilty of obstructing an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.

Ross was acquitted of all charges.

Zhang, the Zheng twins and the name suppressants were all found not guilty of donations to the Labor Party in 2017.

The events leading up to the Auckland High Court trial were set in motion in 2018, when Ross made a series of explosive accusations about then-national leader Simon Bridges and his handling of party donations.

However, Ross’s allegations led to his, Zhang and the Zheng brothers being charged.

All the defendants denied that they were involved in a fraudulent device, ploy or ruse designed to deceive the secretaries of the Labor and National parties, the Election Commission and the public.

paintings

The Crown’s case at trial involved five paintings that were sold at an alleged fake auction.

A meeting was held between the defendants prior to the purchase, where it was agreed that Zhang would purchase the painting, but others would be put forward as donors, the Crown claimed.

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

All the people whose names were used told the court they did not donate to the party.

Dinner at Cibo

Two months after the Labor donations, Zhang, Shijia (Colin) Zheng and Ross met at Cibo, a restaurant in Parnell, Auckland.

The Crown’s case was at the meeting that it was agreed that Zhang would donate $100,000 to National. However, other names would be named as donors and the money would be broken up into smaller chunks to get below the disclosure threshold.

The second batch of National Party donations under scrutiny in court was made in 2018.

Joe Zheng made seven transfers, totaling $100,050, to the National Party after a meeting between Zhang and Bridges in May.

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

In September of that year, Zhang became a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to New Zealand-China relations and the Chinese community.

This article was originally published by Stuff

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