Neither Simon Bridges nor National face Serious Fraud Office charges in the political donations case, but there is sufficient information in the public domain to make both Bridges and the party highly uncomfortable.
A trawl through recent history should suffice.
First, Jami-Lee Ross — who does face charges — was elected by the National caucus to be chief government whip in 2017 and was later elevated to a front-bench position by Simon Bridges when he became leader after the general election.
Second, Bridges was clearly aware that Ross was to all intents and purposes acting as a National Party bagman, pimping his leader out to influential people — including Yikun Zhang — to effectively warm "the sale" that Ross would bring home.
Third, the tape released by Ross indicates the former National chief whip and subsequent front-bencher raised donation splitting directly with Bridges when it came to the $100,000 which was then under discussion from a Chinese organisation.
Fourth, it was mentioned in their taped conversation that Colin Zheng (also charged, as is Joe Zheng) was a possible candidate for the party. This was read at the time as implying list positions were for sale.
Fifth, the pair discussed whether the $100,000 should stay in the Botany account and talked about how it could be used for a social media campaign.
What I am underlining here is that Bridges' attempts to dissociate himself and National from what has gone down won't wash.
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It has unfortunately become par for the course in election fundraising for politicians to be used as bait to get donor interest. What is different this time was that the former National chief whip and subsequent front-bencher was smack in the middle with the leader's approval.
I find it intriguing that China critics have been quick off the mark to insinuate that Zhang — one of three Chinese businessmen who face SFO charges in the National Party donations imbroglio alongside Ross — is part of an unsavoury United Front influence-buying plot.
That's because Zhang — who was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to New Zealand-China relations — is not only a prominent member of Auckland's Chinese community, but also chairs the influential Chao Shan General Association of New Zealand, which they allege is a front for Chinese Communist Party initiatives.
Read Professor Anne-Marie Brady's twitter file to get the picture.
But what if it is not the Chinese businesspeople who have allegedly tried to suborn the National Party by splitting donations to ensure so-called "influence buying" remains hidden?
What if it is the National Party — which finds it useful to keep the extent of its major Chinese donations hidden — which is in reality suborning donors to split donations to sit under the $15,000 mark so the party doesn't have to answer questions about just how many "red envelopes" it has pulled into its election coffers at a time of heightened sensitivity over Chinese links?
Chinese businesspeople and organisations have proven to be easy marks for party bagmen in recent years. Not just the National Party — which has been highly effective in Chinese circles in recent years. But also the Labour Party. National Party president Peter Goodfellow is highly connected; so too was the former president of the Labour Party, Nigel Haworth.
Then there are the recent mayoral campaigns for former Auckland leader Len Brown and current mayor Phil Goff, as well as Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel, which benefited from more "red envelopes" gifted in ways that did not require disclosure.
Even former Prime Minister Sir John Key's flag changing campaign had some local Chinese backing.
This intriguing "chicken and egg" scenario has now been put on the agenda by the Chinese businessmen's lawyers, who say the trio were "urged to follow a process" when it came to donations.
A statement from their public relations firm said, "Our clients are fully aware of the public interest in this case and the need to respect the integrity of the New Zealand electoral system."
Their legal counsel, John Katz QC, Paul Dacre QC and Rosemary Thomson, said they had asked for name suppression to be lifted and for the process surrounding the charges to be open and transparent.
"Our clients are proud New Zealanders and philanthropists. They were urged to follow a process and are now deeply disappointed at being caught up in a donations fiasco.
"They have supported numerous community groups over many years through fundraising activities and donations, including donating to many political parties and campaigns.
"Our clients believe they are casualties of the turmoil created through mud-slinging during the high-profile fallout following Jami-Lee Ross' revelations and allegations about the National Party and will be defending the charges against them."
Ignorance of the law is, of course, no defence.
It has also obviously proven difficult for Ross, who clearly was not able to prove his allegation that he was acting directly under his former leader Simon Bridges' instructions when it came to splitting the $100,000 donations into smaller amounts to sit under the $15,000 limit beyond which donors' names would have to be disclosed.
If Zhang, Zheng and Zheng are of a public-spirited disposition, they should simply disclose all their donations to political parties and campaigns over the years.
That would not only ensure the process surrounding the charges is "open and transparent", but give more insight into how the political parties leverage the China connection for funds.
* The print version of this column erroneously said Jami-Lee Ross remained as chief National whip under Simon Bridges' leadership. He was appointed to the front-bench by Bridges after the 2017 election.