SFO to investigate Jami-Lee Ross' complaint on National Party donations

by RNZ / 12 March, 2019

Independent MP Jami-Lee Ross says he understands the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation into a complaint on a National Party donation is looking at tracing the money back through different bank accounts.

In October last year, Mr Ross took a recording he had made to police in which he is speaking to leader Simon Bridges about a $100,000 donation.

He maintains that Mr Bridges or the National Party had something to do with the donation being split up into several pieces, in order to avoid it having to be declared, but denies any involvement in that himself.

Police have confirmed they have referred to the SFO a complaint received in October last year in relation to the disclosure of political donations under the Electoral Act.

The complaint has been referred to the SFO as they hold the appropriate mandate to look further into matters raised by the investigation to date, police said.

Speaking to media this afternoon, Mr Ross claimed he never handled the donation, and that the $100,000 offered to Mr Bridges at an event on 21 May had already been split up when it landed in a Botany bank account some months later.

"I think the Serious Fraud Office is the right organisation to be handling this," he said.

"I went in to that police station on my own initiative to make a complaint. I did so without having a legal counsel with me, because I was confident that the information I was providing police was sufficient for them to undertake their investigations."

Mr Ross said he was not concerned that he may be liable for prosecution.

He said the fact the SFO was investigating this showed there were serious issues around donations in the National Party.

"That should be investigated properly. Things don't get referred to the Serious Fraud Office unless there's good reason to."

"I was confident that the information I was providing police was sufficient for them to undertake their investigations.

"I understand that the investigation got to the point where it was appropriate for the SFO to get involved.

"Every time I've been told that I was wrong and baseless, I've been able to come up with some evidence or some information and this just shows that there are serious issues there around donations to the National Party that should be investigated properly."

He said he wanted to clarify that he himself had not broken up the $100,000, but that the funds entered National Party's account in allotments below the $15,000 threshold.

He was not a signatory to the account and so did not have access to it, but was made aware of the donation, Mr Ross said.

He said names and addresses were provided to the party to record the donors of the below $15,000 donations, but he did not know about the legitimacy of those.

"I don't recall the exact words, and I don't have recordings of that but he [Mr Bridges] was at pains to point to me, and I've said this previously, that it would be unhelpful for the donation to be made public."

The donor was not told that the $100,000 would be split up, Mr Ross said.

"However, the donor was sufficiently aware of rules in regards to disclosure. This donor has made donations to the National Party in the past, and in the past the rules around donation disclosure rules were advised to the donor."

However, Mr Ross said the onus lay with the party to comply with rules.

In response to Mr Bridge's claims that the probe related to the party as a whole, Mr Ross said the donation offer was made to the leader directly and that he was not present at the time of the offer.

"I was not at the 21st of May event, I was at a previous event on the 14th of May where Simon and I dined at the home of the donor.

"Simon can make the claims he wants but he is ultimately the leader of the National Party and sits on the National Party board."

He said he was then asked to go and initiate contact with the donor after the offer was made.

Mr Ross claimed that Mr Bridges contacted him excited about the donation, which he said came at a time when the party was looking for funding for "attack ads" on the Labour Party.

Mr Bridges has consistently denied all of Mr Ross' allegations, going as far as to say Mr Ross had lied and defamed him.

Earlier today, Mr Bridges told reporters at Parliament that based on the police's statement he did not believe the complaint related to him personally.

"My clear view from the statement they've put out is it is a matter for the National Party, and as I say ... I expect them to cooperate."

He said he only found out about the police transferring the complaint to the Serious Fraud Office this morning, and he had not been spoken to by either of them.

Mr Bridges reiterated that he never instructed Mr Ross to break up a political donation.

He said he hoped the Serious Fraud Office would complete its investigation quickly.

"We do want to see swift justice here. They shouldn't muck around, they should get on with this so that we can all be quite clear," Mr Bridges said.

When asked if he was completely confident that he would be cleared he said "yes, absolutely".

He said Mr Ross could face prosecution himself.

"Look that is possible but if so I don't want to speculate on what this is about.

"We've got a press statement from the police about National, about the SFO and there's questions for them."

National Party general secretary Greg Hamilton said he had no comment to make about the SFO investigation, or the National Party's role in it.

But he did confirm he had spoken to the police "a long time ago" in relation to the complaint.

He said he had "no idea" if the investigation was related to the National Party, or any specific MPs.

This article was first published on Radio NZ.

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