Court trials loom for accused

The men accused of killing Wiremu Arapo, who died following a fire at his east Auckland home, will go on trial in March. Times file photo Wayne Martin

Three criminal trials with links to east Auckland are set to be held during 2022.

The first is scheduled to begin on March 7 at the Auckland High Court and is expected to take four weeks.

It will see two men accused of murdering Wiremu Arapo, 27, who died following a fire at his Cockle Bay home in late 2020, defend the charge.

Police arrested and charged Greg Hart and Sean Andrew Hayde with Arapo’s murder following the fatal house fire in Minerva Terrace on October 20.

Counties Manukau Police initially said that after liaising with NZ Fire and Emergency investigators, they were not treating the fire as suspicious and would refer Arapo’s death to the coroner.

However, about a month later, acting detective sergeant Craig Bolton said a homicide investigation had been launched and asked for people with information to contact police.

On December 8, Bolton announced police had arrested two 32-year-old men and charged them with Arapo’s murder.

The pair eventually appeared in the Auckland High Court where they pleaded not guilty to the charge.

Set to defend a murder charge also is Fang Sun, who police arrested and charged over the violent 2020 killing of Pakuranga businesswoman Elizabeth (Ying) Zhong.

Zhong, 55, was found dead inside her Land Rover vehicle on November 28 while it was parked in Roadley Avenue, Sunnyhills, a short distance from her three-storey Suzetta Place home.

A court document previously seen by the Times states police believe Sun killed Zhong in Sunnyhills between November 27 and November 28, 2020.

Sun’s occupation was not stated on the document but it is understood he and Zhong are former business partners.

He pleaded not guilty to Zhong’s murder and is set to go on trial at the Auckland High Court on April 26.

Zhong had numerous business interests, including in a winery, at the time of her death, and was the director of the company Digital Post Limited, based in central Auckland.

The third major trial with links to east Auckland set to be held this year involves donations made to New Zealand’s two largest political parties.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) charged disgraced former Independent Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross and businessmen Yikun Zhang, Shijia Zheng, and Hengjia Zhen in January 2020 over two large donations made to the National Party in June 2017 and June 2018.

The four men pleaded not guilty to the charges in February 2020.

The Crown alleges the donations were split into smaller amounts so the identity of the donor or donors was not disclosed in the National Party’s annual return of party donations.

Ross, Zhang, and Shijia Zheng each face two charges of obtaining by deception.

Hengjia Zheng faces one charge of obtaining by deception and one charge of providing false or misleading information.

The Crimes Act 1961 states the charge of obtaining by deception carries a punishment of up to three years in prison.

A ruling by Auckland High Court Justice Ian Gault late last year granted an application by the SFO to combine the case with one involving donations made to the Labour Party in one single trial.

It’s set to begin on July 25 and is expected to take 10 weeks.