Three accused in political donations scandal at New Zealand art auction

Auckland has named the three high-profile defendants in a case involving donations to political parties allegedly obscured by the purchase of artwork at auction.

A redaction of the identities of three of the defendants was lifted in late February and revealed the names of prominent businessman Yikun Zhang (recipient of the New Zealand Order of Merit) alongside the brothers and men of business, Shijia (Colin) and Hengjia (Joe) Zheng. The identity of three other people also charged remains secret.

The charges are the result of an investigation by New Zealand’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO). At the heart of the claims are five paintings Zhang bought for a combined $60,000 at a high-profile auction (with a guest list that included Prime Minister Jacinda Adern) organized by the country’s Labor Party. end of 2017. Zhang also bought a Chinese antique. Imperial robe for $100,000, which he then donated to a museum in his former hometown in China’s Guangdong province.

The group is accused of ‘obtaining by deception’ and using a series of intermediary names and accounts throughout the transaction to conceal or obscure the amount and identity of the actual donors – information meant to be reported in detail as part of a game. annual returns.

In a statement, a representative for Zhang said, “These totally innocent actions have seen [him] caught in a misguided lawsuit” and confirms that he “vigorously” denies all charges. He also points out that the paintings, including a work by Tauranga-based artist Graham Crow and graphic designer Mischelle O’Donnell, remain hanging in his home.

Representatives of the Zheng brothers and the SFO did not respond to our requests for comment. The Labor Party was quoted in local reports as saying it was “abiding by the law”.

The three defendants also face trial on another set of charges (all denying) relating to National Party donations, which they face alongside former MP Jami-Lee Ross. It is reported that the two parts of the survey will be tested together in July.

Both cases are under wide scrutiny due to heightened scrutiny of how political parties accept payments and claim expenses, following a series of similar cases by the SFO. The case also comes as pressure on cultural organizations to assess the origin of their donations increases internationally.