A brawl between former National MPs Jami-Lee Ross and Simon Bridges was reshuffled in court this week as the two were called to give evidence in a trial over political donations.
Ross and three businessmen – Yikun Zhang, Shijia (Colin) Zheng and Hengjia (Joe) Zheng – have been charged by the Serious Fraud Office for donations made to the National Party.
The three also face charges – alongside two men and a woman, all of whom have had their names provisionally suppressed – for donations to the Labor Party. All six are tried in the Auckland High Court.
The Crown’s case is that fake donors were used and promoted by men inside both sides to disguise the real donor: Zhang.
* Simon Bridges says Jami-Lee Ross went “politically kamikaze” after reshuffle
* Simon Bridges ‘had to beg’ Jami-Lee Ross not to leave National after his demotion
* Political donations trial, week 2: MPs questioned over their involvement in a ‘mock’ auction
Here’s what happened this week and beyond.
why is it important
- This week’s trial provided insight into the turmoil within the National Party leading up to Ross’ infamous 2018 press conference, where he accused Bridges of being corrupt.
- During that conference, he said Bridges had filed illegal election returns regarding a $100,000 donation from Zhang. He accused Bridges of asking him to obscure the identity of the donor by splitting the donation into smaller amounts.
- Text messages read to the jury this week showed Ross felt betrayed by Bridges following a pre-conference demotion. He said Bridges had promised him positions, such as head of the house and chief whip, but they were “taken away”.
- The messages, along with the tapes played in court, also showed Bridges’ frustration with Ross. He said there was evidence Ross had behaved inappropriately around several women and berated him for taping him without her consent.
- Bridges and Ross also discussed a $100,000 donation from Zhang at length, with Ross saying Bridges didn’t report it correctly and Bridges saying he didn’t do anything illegal.
- Jami-Lee Ross was the youngest MP when he was sworn in in 2011. He resigned from the National Party following the 2018 press conference and ran for parliament again as an independent, but lost his seat. In 2020 he launched a new party, Advance New Zealand, which later merged with the New Zealand Public Party, led by conspiracy theorist Billy Te Kahika. They got less than 1% of the vote.
- Simon Bridges became the leader of the National Party in February 2018 after succeeding Bill English. He retired from politics in May 2020. Bridges is now the chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and hosts a podcast, Generally Famousfor Things.
what was said
- “So I got f…..for quite a while by a guy I thought was a mate and I helped a lot,” Ross texted his then-election aide Katja Kershaw after a conversation with Bridges. “Was promised head of the house – kidnapped. Was promised to keep the chief whip – removed. was promised [minister of] housing – carried away. I was about to walk today. He had to beg me not to.
- Ross told a detective that he recorded himself and Bridges discussing the $100,000 donation because “if the shit had hit the fan, it would all have landed on me…I recorded it because I could smell political danger”.
- Bridges told Ross he needed to take an ‘olive branch’ after he secretly recorded their conversation: ‘If you don’t take this…I’m going to get you off the front bench, I’m going to take your wallets away .”
- The trial, before Judge Ian Gault, is expected to last several more weeks.