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Trio sentenced in donations case

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Three people have appeared in the Auckland High Court to be sentenced over donations made to the National Party. Times file photo Wayne Martin

The three businessmen found guilty of charges relating to large donations made to the National Party have appeared in court to be sentenced.

Yikun Zhang and brothers Shijia (Colin) Zheng and Hengjia (Joe) Zheng appeared before Justice Ian Gault in the Auckland High Court on November 30.

Zhang lives in the central Auckland suburb of Remuera but the Zhengs both have links to east Auckland.

According to the NZ Companies Office, the twin brothers are connected to businesses with registered addresses in Flat Bush.

Zhang and the Zhengs were among seven defendants who faced charges laid by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in a judge-alone trial earlier this year.

They along with disgraced former Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross were accused of taking part in a fraudulent scheme to split up two large donations to the National Party in 2017 and 2018 into smaller amounts so the identity of the true donor or donors was not disclosed to the Electoral Commission as legally required.

The SFO laid the charges following a lengthy investigation sparked by public allegations and a police complaint Ross made in late 2018 in which he alleged then-National leader Simon Bridges had instructed him to split up a large donation made to the party.

Ross, Zhang, and Colin Zheng each faced two charges of obtaining by deception.

Joe Zheng faced one charge of obtaining by deception and one charge of providing false or misleading information to the SFO during its investigation.

Zhang and the Zheng brothers also faced charges, along with two men and a woman whose names are suppressed, over a 2017 donation to the Labour Party.

The seven-week judge-alone trial began in front of Justice Ian Gault at the Auckland High Court on July 25.

The judge acquitted four of the defendants of all charges at the end of a seven-week trial.

He acquitted Ross of all charges and acquitted Zhang and the Zheng brothers of the charges relating to the donation to Labour.

Zhang was found not guilty over the donation to National in 2017, but guilty over the one in 2018.

Colin Zheng was found guilty in relation to the donations made to National in 2017 and 2018.

Joe Zheng was found guilty over the donation to National in 2018 and of lying to the SFO.

On November 30 the judge sentenced Zhang to four months’ community detention with a 10pm-6am curfew and 200 hours of community work.

He sentenced Colin Zheng to five months’ community detention with the same curfew and 250 hours of community work.

Joe Zheng was sentenced to three months’ community detention with the curfew and 150 hours of community work.

It was revealed during the trial that Ross had leaked Bridges’ travel expenses in 2018 in an effort to undermine his leadership of the party, despite Ross’s repeated insistence he had not, and that Ross had lied on numerous occasions when he publicly stated Bridges had asked him to have the $100,000 donation to National split up.

Ross’s defence lawyer Ron Mansfield KC told the court Ross’s statements in 2018 about the donation and his own involvement in it were lies told by a mentally unwell and suicidal man whose political career was unravelling and were intended to exact revenge against Bridges after the pair fell out.

SFO director Karen Chang says: “This was an important case which strikes at the heart of what we value in New Zealand — fairness, transparency, and integrity. This was not a victimless crime.”

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