Jami-Lee Ross claims National received foreign donations

In Parliament yesterday Independent MPs Jami-Lee Ross claimed that he had information showing that up to $150,000 dollars in donations paid to the National party had come via conduits from China. He said that he wasn’t aware of this when he was a National MP (and senior whip), and the party probably wasn’t aware of the source of the donations either. He called on National to pay the donations back.

Ross appears to have got the information from the Serious Fraud Office, so it is probable he has his own legal defence in mind in how he has worded his claims.

Before making the claims in a speech in Parliament Ross appeared to collude with Winston Peters in Question Time, in questions directed at Peters as the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Question No. 4—Foreign Affairs

4. JAMI-LEE ROSS (MP—Botany) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Has he received any reports of foreign interference activities in New Zealand from foreign State actors of the type described by Canterbury University Professor Anne-Marie Brady in her paper “Magic Weapons” as united front work carried out by the Chinese Communist Party; if so, what efforts is the Government making to protect New Zealand’s interests?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs): Foreign interference is not a new threat and New Zealand isn’t immune to such attempts. Yes, I have seen reports to that effect, but I can’t discuss specific countries, operational details, targets or methods, or systems of surveillance. But I can assure the member that this Government takes the threat very seriously and has robust measures in place to protect our democratic values, institutions, and our economy.

Jami-Lee Ross: Does he share the concerns of Professor Brady that foreign State actors make efforts to “control diaspora communities, to utilise them as agents of foreign policy, suppress any hints of dissidents as well.”, and if so, what resilience strategy will New Zealand implement to protect against this foreign interference?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Can I tell that member we do share a series of concerns. If that member or, indeed, any member of the public has information that relates to foreign interference from any country, they should report it to the relevant authorities. This is a serious issue that this Government is dedicated to addressing, and appropriate processes should be followed. But let me say this: this is the first time in New Zealand’s history that a political party has announced its candidate list in China, and you have to ask yourself why.

Jami-Lee Ross: Does he share the view of SIS director Rebecca Kitteridge that one vector of foreign interference in elections is “Building covert influence and leverage, including through electoral financing;”, and if so, what advice does he have for New Zealanders concerned about this foreign interference?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The member will, I’m sure, appreciate the fact that we cannot single out any one specific country. The important thing is that we have flexible and adequate mechanisms, we believe, in place to protect our democratic values, institutions, and the economy. The witness and evidence that he has recited in his question is some testimony to that, but the reality is we have open channels to raise issues with countries if and when we ever need to do so. But it behoves political parties not to be undermining this Government’s serious purpose to protect our democratic institutions.

Both Ross and Peters have demonstrated having obvious grudges against National leader Simon Bridges and the National Party, so that context could be important.

Ross, Peters and NZ First have had links to and have been promoted by the Whale Oil and The BFD blogs and Cameron Slater et al.

From the Debate on Prime Minister’s Statement following Question Time:

JAMI-LEE ROSS (Botany):

…In the Prime Minister’s statement, that we are debating, the Prime Minister lists as one of her Government’s achievements the banning of foreign political donations. It’s true that the new $50 threshold for overseas donations is an improvement. But, as I’ve said previously in the House, I doubt it will do very little to deter those determined to find other ways around the ban, including—

SPEAKER: Order! Mr Jackson leave the House.

JAMI-LEE ROSS: —using the wide open gap we still have where foreign State actors can funnel funds through New Zealand registered companies.

The foreign donation ban is one of the few recommendations that has spun out of the Justice Committee’s inquiry into foreign interference activities in New Zealand elections. That has been picked up. Probably the most important submissions that we received through that inquiry were those from Professor Anne-Marie Brady of Canterbury University and what we heard from the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) director, Rebecca Kitteridge. It was all eye-watering and eye-opening stuff and sobering for us to hear and read their evidence. We have not, and I think we still do not, take seriously enough the risk of foreign interference activities that we’ve been subjected to as a country. Ms Kitteridge rightly pointed out in her evidence that the challenge of foreign interference to our democracy is not just about what occurs around the election itself. Motivated State actors will work assiduously over many years, including in New Zealand, to covertly garner influence, access, and leverage.

She also specifically pointed out the risks we face from foreign State actors through the exertion of pressure or control of diaspora communities and the building of covert influence and leverage, including through electoral financing. After Pansy Wong resigned from Parliament, I was selected as the National Party candidate for the 5 March by-election nine years ago. It was made very clear to me at the time that I had to put a big emphasis on getting to know the Chinese community. It was also pointed out to me very early on that I must make good connections with the Chinese consul-general. Madam Liao at the time was very influential with Chinese New Zealanders, and important to my own success as well. In hindsight, it was naive of me to not think carefully about the pull that a foreign diplomat had on a large section of the population in my electorate.

The consul-general in Auckland is treated like a God, more so than any New Zealand politician, except probably the Prime Minister of the day. Each successive consul-general seemed to be better and more effective at holding New Zealand residents and citizens of Chinese descent in their grasp. Consul-generals Niu Qingbao and Xu Erwen were also treating us, as MPs—not just myself, others—as long-lost friends. All this effort, if you read Professor Brady’s paper called Magic Weapons, is a core plank of the Chinese Communist Party’s deliberate and targeted efforts to expand political influence activities worldwide. It’s also the very risk that Rebecca Kitteridge warned the Justice Committee about. Professor Brady’s paper is a 50-page academic work. I can’t do it justice here, but I recommend all MPs read it.

The activities of the Chinese Communist Party here domestically, where Chinese New Zealanders have been targeted, should be concerning enough for all of us. But the efforts that Chinese Communist Party – connected individuals have been making over the years to target us as politicians, and New Zealand political parties, also needs to be taken seriously. Every time we as MPs are showered with praise or dinners or hospitality by Chinese diplomats, we’re being subjected to what Professor Brady calls “united front work”. Every time we see our constituents bow and scrape to foreign diplomats, it’s a result of their long-running efforts to exert influence and control over our fellow Kiwis.

Both Professor Brady and director Kitteridge have warned about the risk of foreign interference activity where funding of political parties is used as a tool. This isn’t necessarily unlawful provided the donations meet the requirements of the Electoral Act. In 2018, I very publicly made some allegations relating to donations. I have said publicly already that the donations I called out were offered directly to the leader of the National Party at an event I was not in attendance at. I did not know at the time that those donations were made that they were in any way unlawful. I never had any control over those donations and I have never been a signatory of any National Party bank account in the time that I’ve been an MP. I never benefited personally from those donations. I was never a part of any conspiracy to defeat the Electoral Act. And the point at which I blew the whistle on these donations—first internally, then very publicly—that point came after I learned new information that led me to question the legality of the donations.

While making the accusations Ross has been careful to try to distance himself from what he claims has happened.

After raising these issues publicly, they were duly investigated first by the police and then the Serious Fraud Office. The result of those allegations is already public and I can’t traverse much detail here, but I will say that I refuse to be silenced and I will keep speaking out about what I know, and have seen, goes on inside political parties. I refuse to be quiet about the corroding influence of money in New Zealand politics.

Last year, I learnt, off the back of concerns I myself took to the proper authorities, that the National Party had been the beneficiary of large amounts of foreign donations. These donations are linked back to China and linked to the Chinese Communist Party, and with ease entered New Zealand. I didn’t go searching for this information. I was asked if I knew anything of the origins of the donations. I didn’t know. It was all new information to me, and I was surprised by what I learnt.

What I learnt was that large sums of money adding up to around $150,000 coming directly out of China in Chinese yuan over successive years ended up as political party donations. Two individuals, _________, were used as conduits for the donations.

These funds eventually made their way to the New Zealand National Party. The New Zealand National Party still holds those funds. The National Party is still holding at least $150,000 of foreign donations received in two successive years. I call on the National Party to return those foreign donations that it holds or transfer the money to the Electoral Commission. I doubt the National Party knew at the time that the money was foreign—I certainly didn’t either—but now that they will have that information to hand, they need to show leadership and do the right thing.

How does Ross know that the national party still holds the donations?

To avoid doubt, this $150,000 dollars’ worth of foreign donations is not the same as the $150,000 from the Inner Mongolia Rider Horse Industry company that they raised last year.

The warnings sounded from academics and spy agencies are not without reason. These two examples I give are very real examples of foreign money that has entered New Zealand politics. Professor Brady, with reference to the list of overseas members of the overseas Chinese federation, which is part of the Communist Party’s infrastructure, listed three top united front representatives in New Zealand:

_____, _____, and Zhang Yikun. All three are well known to political parties.

In a recent press statement from a PR agency, representatives of Zhang Yikun highlighted the philanthropic approach that he takes in New Zealand. The press statement on 19 February specifically said that he has been “donating to many political parties and campaigns.”, except his name has never appeared in any political party return. When asked by the media if political parties had any record of donations from this individual, all said no. But a quick search online will find dozens and dozens of photos of Zhang Yikun dining with mayors and MPs over the time, inviting them to his home, and his recent 20th convention of Teochew International Federation had a who’s who list of politicians turning up, including a former Prime Minister.

The foreign donations I mentioned earlier all have connections to the Chao Shan General Association. The founder and chairman of Chao Shan General Association is Zhang Yikun. To summarise these two bits of information, the largest party in this Parliament has been the beneficiary of large sums of foreign money. That money is linked to an individual who was listed as one of the top three Chinese Communist Party united front representatives in New Zealand. That individual’s PR agents say he has donated to many political parties and campaigns, yet he’s never showing up in any donation returns in the past.

One of Professor Brady’s concluding remarks in her submission to the Justice Committee was that foreign interference activities can only thrive if public opinion in the affected nation tolerates or condones it. We must not tolerate or condone any foreign interference activities. We must also not stay silent when we see problems right under our nose. It’s time for the political parties in this Parliament to address seriously the political party donation regime that we have.

I realise that both the two main parties in this Parliament often have to agree, but perhaps it’s time to put that out to an independent body. It’s too important for us to ignore, and it’s not right that we should allow these things to go on under our nose.

I seek leave to table two charts that show a flow of money from China into New Zealand and to the New Zealand National Party.

SPEAKER: I seek an assurance from the member that these charts are not integral to any matter currently before the courts.

JAMI-LEE ROSS: These charts have been prepared by the Serious Fraud Office and I cannot give you that assurance.

SPEAKER: You cannot give me that assurance. Well, I’m not going to put the question.

MPs involved in court processes usually refuse to discuss or answer questions about the case, claiming the sub judice rule requires this, so Ross using information he has obtained as a part of being prosecuted may raise some legal eyebrows. Also political eyebrows.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The sub judice rule is not as to the fact; it’s as to the argument of the merit of the case, and I think a far too rigid rule is being applied here. If a flow chart, without any other comment, is to be ruled out from being tabled because you say it is sub judice; it is not arguing anything but the fact. It is not arguing for the merits, it’s not taking sides, it’s not trying to be persuasive, and I think it should be allowed in.

It seems quite ironic that Peters is arguing against the sub judice rule. He has claimed his right to silence on an issue because of the rule multiple times in the past.

SPEAKER: Well, I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his comments. This is clearly a matter on which I’ve thought long and hard. I think in the last Standing Orders review or possibly the one before that, the sub judice rules were significantly tightened. I think it’s fair to say that those changes were not unanimous. There was one member who stood out against the tightening of those rules, and it was me. But having said that, as Speaker, I am obliged to apply the rules as they exist, and the member has not been able to give me an assurance that the information contained in the chart is not central to a case currently before the court.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The problem with that is you’ve got a serious legal concept that’s been handed down through the decades, indeed the centuries, now being interpreted by parliamentarians as though they are a court of law in this context. The sub judice rule applies to any court of law—any document associated with a court of law—across our legal jurisdiction. But no parliamentarian should be given—sorry, I’m not making an attack on the parliamentarians, but I think it’s improper for parliamentarians to say, “Well, we’ve got a better interpretation of that, and this is what it is.”

Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think, for me, the question is how Mr Ross came to hold the documents: whether in fact he is holding the documents because of his involvement in a case that may be before a judicial body, or whether he came to hold them through some other means.

SPEAKER: Well, I think I’m able to deal with that question on the matter of the briefings that I have received. Jami-Lee Ross has made it clear to me that the chart to which he refers or the information to which he refers is something which has come into his possession as a matter leading up to this and containing information relevant to this case.

Hon Aupito William Sio: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Noting the seriousness and the magnitude of the issues that have been raised with Mr Jami-Lee Ross, and noting also that his time is up, is it appropriate for me to seek leave that he be given extended time to complete his statements?

SPEAKER: The answer to that is that it’s not appropriate for that member to seek leave for another member in that way.

This could add to National’s embarrassment over donations.

But it also shows that Ross seems to be working with Peters in trying to damage National, and Ross will have his defence (of the SFO prosecution) in mind with what he says here – but using court information to do this may cause him some problems.

It will be interesting to see what The BFD runs on this today.


Sources:

https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/hansard-debates/rhr/document/HansS_20200305_051450000/4-question-no-4-foreign-affairs

https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/hansard-debates/rhr/document/HansS_20200305_054225000/ross-jami-lee

Leave a comment

19 Comments

  1. Blazer

     /  6th March 2020

    [deleted incorrect name] makes no secret of his desire to have maybe 2 more Chinese Nats M.P’s.
    @ 100K a pop,they are quite affordable these days,to some.
    https://www.newsroom.co.nz/2020/03/03/1066244/controversial-mp-jian-yang-reselected-by-national

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  6th March 2020

      The fallacy of your argument is that people don’t have to vote for them.

      Reply
  2. artcroft

     /  6th March 2020

    The Winston First Foundation receives plenty of Chinese money each year. Just doesn’t declare it. Pot kettle black.

    Reply
    • duperez

       /  6th March 2020

      Since Winston doesn’t declare it, and you know about it, give us the details. 🙂

      Reply
  3. Duker

     /  6th March 2020

    As JLR says
    “It was made very clear to me at the time[he took over after Pansy Wong] that I had to put a big emphasis on getting to know the Chinese community. It was also pointed out to me very early on that I must make good connections with the Chinese consul-general.”

    Sounds like he was told by the party hierarchy that as the new MP for Botany he was to become a supplicant to the Chinese Consul General in Auckland
    [For the diaspora] “The consul-general in Auckland is treated like a God”
    Its probably comes from Confucian respect for hierarchy and historical traditions which is exploited by the CPC

    Reply
  4. Duker

     /  6th March 2020

    “But it also shows that Ross seems to be working with Peters in trying to damage National”

    I dont see how you can say that , as an MP JLR probably gets 1 question a month asked of a Ministers.

    And this is what it is , a formal question asked of the Foreign Minister. Of course it allows him to raise his points when normally they would be out of order as unrelated to the issues under discussion
    The question of Peters got fairly innocuous answers.
    It was later debate where Ross had his main points
    “Debate on Prime Minister’s Statement following Question Time”

    I dont know how any of this shows collusion with Peters at all. Ross has a beef with Bridges but it doesnt seem that Peters is pumping the tyres for Ross on chinese donations. His answer to Ross’s question says ‘We cant name countries”

    Reply
  5. Blazer

     /  6th March 2020

    Wonder what Senator McCarthy would have to say about all this love for Communist China!

    Shipley,Brash,Key,Bridges,Collins all comrades these days.

    If Mr Bridges wins election as P.M he will reverse the foreign buyers ban and stoke up the Nats NZ 4 Sale programme.

    Reply
  6. Duker

     /  6th March 2020

    “large sums of money adding up to around $150,000 coming directly out of China in Chinese yuan over successive years ended up as political party donations. Two individuals, _________, were used as conduits for the donations”

    Is that censorship PG?
    The two people are named in other publications as a transcript of parliament is privileged.
    I wont put the names here if thats what you want.

    Reply
    • I copied that exactly from the Hansard transcript on the Parliament website. I don’t know why they left the names out.Possibly inaudible or hard to work out what the names were, possibly legal. They are still blank in the transcript.

      I don’t think any useful purpose would be served naming them here, and I prefer to play it safe legally.

      Reply
      • Duker

         /  6th March 2020

        Yes. It didnt look like your style. A bit strange that Hansard itself would censor the words of an MP spoken in debate.
        I presume someone has directed them to do so as its selective for some of the names as given in RNZ reports but not one other person. It is of course a draft transcript.
        There is no current name suppression for those people .

        Reply
        • oldlaker

           /  7th March 2020

          Prof Anne-Marie Brady tweeted on March 5 a correction to her naming the two individuals because of “mishearing @jamileeross Chinese pronunciation @NZParliament”.
          Maybe Hansard didn’t want to risk getting it wrong either if they didn’t understand exactly who Ross was naming, given the possible legal dangers…

          Reply
  7. NOEL

     /  6th March 2020

    I thought the object was to use parliamentary privilege where you to castigate anyone without recrimination or legal comeback.
    A history of many who have been attacked in that way.
    Can it be over ridden if the case is before the courts????

    Reply
  8. lurcher1948

     /  6th March 2020

    FRIDAY, im a non person,LETS ALL CELEBRATE FREE SPEECH,Hi PG i exist, its not SLB or kiwiblog…where you are banned if you are not a rightwing pale old white male supremacist

    Reply
    • Corky

       /  6th March 2020

      They also ban people if they think they are nutters.

      Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  6th March 2020

      I won’t make the obvious riposte.

      Reply
    • Corky

       /  6th March 2020

      Kittys not going to make a riposte to your virulent comments, Lurchy. Be thankful.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  6th March 2020

        No, ducky, it wasn’t to Lurch. I didn’t think it necessary to spell this out.

        Reply
      • Corky

         /  7th March 2020

        Then make the comment…and I will deal with you…as usual.

        Reply

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