Embattled MP Jami-Lee Ross has quit as Botany’s Member of Parliament during a dramatic press conference in which he defended himself against a “corrupt” Simon Bridges.
Ross has reiterated that he is not the leaker of the party leader’s travel expenses, an accusation which has snowballed into a full-blown political brawl between the two politicians.
He accused Bridges of having committed several breaches of the Electoral Act when allegedly manipulating party donations.
Ross said he will be laying a formal complaint with police where he will also hand over a voice recording as evidence to support his claim.
“It is unlawful to file a false return,” Ross told reporters in Parliament this morning. “I believe Simon Bridges is a corrupt politician.
“The National Party has broken the law at the instructions of Simon Bridges.”
Ross resigned from the National Party and from his role as MP for Botany today forcing a by-election. He announced he will stand as an independent in the ensuing by-election.
He said the by-election will be a referendum in which voters could decide.
“I believe he (Simon Bridges) is dishonest. I’m speaking out now. New Zealand deserves better from the national Party,” he told the media.
“”I can no longer serve in a political party lead by a corrupt politician.”
Ross has also revealed he was accused by Bridges of harassing four women, but said when he asked for details and evidence he was not given any.
Ross said the news of such allegations was “devastating”.
This prompted Ross to take medical leave from parliament two weeks ago, inflaming innuendo around Ross and the leak.
“I am now medically well again,” Ross told reporters.
He says his contract now is with the people of the Botany electorate.
“I have fought for my community,” he says.
Ross says he is confident he can win back the Botany seat on a track record of 15 years.
Bridges addressed Ross’s allegations in his own press conference, flanked by senior members of the National Party.
He referred to Ross as a lone wolf MP who did not have the best interest’ of New Zealander’s in mind.
He said the National Party Caucus unanimously voted to expel Ross.
Bridges also rejected the allegations Ross has made around the handling of political donations.
“I invite Jami-Lee Ross to take these matters to the Police and I invite the Police to investigate them fully and promptly. They will find the allegations are baseless,” Bridges said in a press release.
“We as a caucus are going to now draw a line under this. We will be resolutely strong and focused on the things that matter to New Zealanders.”
Ross’s explosive allegations follows an announcement from Bridges yesterday that Ross was identified as the person likely to have leaked his travel expenses, an accusation which Ross fiercely denied.
Bridges told media that “The report states that the evidence identified points to Jami-Lee Ross as being the person who sent the anonymous text message.”
Bridges says he, alongside deputy leader Paula Bennett, visited Ross before the press conference to discuss the report and “gave him an opportunity to respond”.
Bridges says he “was not satisfied with [Ross’] explanation.”
The National Party leak investigation inquiry findings stated that Ross may be the leaker but cannot confirm with certainty.
The report reads: “With one exception, our examination did not identify any evidence to suggest that any National Party MP is the text message sender.”
“The exception is Mr Ross.”
The report then outlined a number of phone calls made by Ross which may link him to the leak.
“This evidence is not conclusive,” the report reads.
Meanwhile, Ross pre-empted Bridges announcement by fiercely denying the accusation in a series of tweets.
In one tweet Ross says, “Later today Simon Bridges is going to attempt to pin his leak inquiry on me. He cannot find who the actual leak is, so is attempting to use contact with my local Police area commander, and a journalist that is a friend (not Tova), as evidence that I am somehow involved.”
“Some months ago I fell out with Simon. I have internally been questioning leadership decisions he was making, and his personal poll ratings which show he is becoming more and more unlikable in the public’s eyes,” he tweeted.
“When I started to become expendable, I confronted him with evidence that I had recorded him discussing with me unlawful activity that he was involved in. Working on his instruction, he asked me to do things with election donations that broke the law.”