Yikun Zhang, the millionaire at the center of the political donations trial
Throughout a seven-week trial in the High Court for fraudulent donations to the National and Labor parties, one name came up time and time again: Yikun Zhang.
The Crown’s case at the highly publicized trial, which saw former National MP Jami-Lee Ross charged alongside six others, was that fake donors had been used and promoted by men inside the two political parties to disguise the real donor, Zhang.
On Wednesday, Zhang was found guilty of deceptively obtaining a $100,050 donation made to the National Party in 2018. He was found not guilty of a donation made to the National in 2017 and a donation made to the Labor Party. .
But who is Zhang and what are his ties to National?
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Zhang moved to New Zealand in 2000 before gaining residency in 2001 in the soft skills category.
Since then, he has established numerous businesses with interests in property development, property management, import and export trading, commercial investment, hospitality and healthcare products.
Judge hands down verdicts in political donations case
It also has offices in Hainan Province, Guangdong Province, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Thailand.
In 2018, Zhang invited Simon Bridges, then National Party leader, to his home for dinner. A week later, they reunited at a fundraiser at Newmarket in Auckland.
At the fundraiser, Zhang, with Colin Zheng as translator, offered to donate $100,000 to National.
Joe Zheng then made seven transfers, totaling $100,050, to the National Party.
Zhang was born in Puning, Guangdong, and joined the People’s Liberation Army Naval Air Force in 1990. In 1992, he retired from the military and started working in the administration highways in Hainan before graduating from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
He was a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – “a Chinese People’s Patriotic United Front Organization” – which was founded by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, various democratic parties and non-party democrats.
He is vice-president of the Hainan Provincial Federation of Industry and Commerce and grants scholarships to the vocational school of Puning. He is also vice-president of the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce.
According to the company registry, he has a stake in the Chao Zhou restaurant. His sister also owns a stake, as does Colin Zheng, who was charged alongside Zhang in the political donations trial.
On Wednesday, Zheng was found guilty of deceptively obtaining the 2017 and 2018 donations. His twin, Hengjia (Joe) Zheng, was found guilty of the 2018 donation and obstructing a Serious Fraud Office investigation.
Zhang also has stakes in KCC Holding Ltd and HLG Construction Ltd, whose director is Colin Zheng.
He is also one of the directors and shareholders of Chao Shan Trustee Ltd, Warewell Ltd, HLG Holding Ltd and Chao Hui Holding Ltd.
In addition to his directorships, Zhang owns six commercial properties or car parks across Auckland.
He also owns two houses in Remuera. His properties are worth around $75 million, according to Auckland Council’s 2021 CVs.
The businessman is also a founding member of the Chao Shan General Association of New Zealand.
Zhang founded the association in 2014 focusing on service to the Teochew community in Aotearoa.
Chaoshan has been known to produce successful entrepreneurs for millennia, with the Tang dynasty referring to businessmen in the region as the “Chaoshan Business Gang”.
Some of the wealthiest Chinese living in Southeast Asia are the Teochew Chinese, including real estate magnate Li Ka-Shing, who bought the Taharoa Iron Sands business from parent company New Zealand Steel, l ‘Australian BlueScope Steel, for 250 million dollars in 2009.
Many famous brands in China hail from Chaoshan, including personal hygiene products companies Yaqian, Lafang and Difaso, stationery manufacturer Genvana, and lighting products brand Yage.
Zhang also played a key role in securing Auckland’s hosting rights to host the 20th Teochew International Convention.
In September 2018, he was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to the New Zealand-China relationship and the Chinese community.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister has said Jacinda Ardern may consider advising the King to rescind a person’s appointment to an order where the individual’s actions are such that, if they continue to hold that honour, the the honors system would be discredited.
Zhang was also charged with donations to the Labor Party, but was found not guilty.
Zhang, the Zheng twins and those whose names were removed were also found not guilty for the Labor Party donations.
Ross was found not guilty of the charges against him.
The Labor Party charges against Zhang centered on an art auction at which five paintings were purchased. The evidence for the Crown was that names had been listed as buyers at this auction, but they were not the actual buyers.
Zhang previously released a statement through his lawyers saying he bought the paintings and they hung in his home.
Along with the paintings, he also bought an imperial robe and two other works of art for $100,000 at a Labor Party auction in September 2017.
The dress has since been donated to a museum in her home province.
Zhang said he was not a member of the Chinese Communist Party and had renounced his Chinese citizenship.
His attorney, Blair Keown, told the court that Zhang was well regarded for his service to the Chinese community.
Zhang will be sentenced, alongside the Zheng brothers, on November 30.