Independent MP Jami-Lee Ross has pleaded not guilty to charges relating to National Party donations - and maintains his decision to go public was not an "own goal".
The Botany MP made his first appearance in court today after the charges were laid by the Serious Fraud Office.
The investigation was prompted by Ross going public with allegations against National leader Simon Bridges - which Bridges adamantly denied.
Ross then laid a complaint with police, which sparked the SFO inquiry that led to him being charged.
The independent MP insisted today as he left Auckland District Court that he had "never been involved in any deception to do with donations".
"I was the whistleblower. I still consider that I was right to raise the concerns," he told media.
"There is no own goal."
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Ross and three businessmen all pleaded not guilty to allegations about two $100,000 donations to the National Party.
The 34-year-old Ross was named last week as one of four people criminally charged.
Businessmen Yikun Zhang, 48, Shijia (Colin) Zheng, 34, and Hengjia (Joe) Zheng, 34, also appeared in the Auckland District Court this morning before Judge John Macdonald.
Speaking outside court Ross said: "I have to trust the justice system in this country to establish this. Otherwise, who is going to come forward and be a whistleblower on any important issue like this in the future?
"The National Party trolls have already been mobilised and have mounted a campaign to take me down and to turn people against me.
"While, sadly, they may influence some, I don't expect they will influence the justice system in this country in the same way. People in the end will see through their manipulation and lies."
Ross continued: "I know there will be questions, but they will all be answered at trial, where I am told they need to be."
The politician said he had been instructed by his lawyer Ron Mansfield not to comment further and would not discuss who may be called as a witness in a future trial.
A spokesman for the National Party said: "The National Party has always maintained we had nothing to do with alleged illegal activity regarding the donations recently investigated by the Serious Fraud Office.
"The party does not accept the way Jami-Lee Ross is characterising his part in the donations which have led to charges being made against him, not the party. This has always been about a vendetta by Mr Ross.
"The party expects the trial of charges against Mr Ross will involve evidence which will inform the public of the true facts."
Earlier today, none of the four accused commented about the case or charges as they entered the courthouse in Albert St.
Once inside, after pleading not guilty, all four men were granted bail but ordered to surrender their passports.
They will reappear in court in June for the case, which is being prosecuted by Stephen Bonnar QC.
Last week, Ross spoke out for the first time about the allegations to the NZ Herald and Newshub and called the charges "outrageous".
"I was the whistleblower, and as a result, ever since I have been attacked by the [National] Party and its supporters for bringing this matter to the attention of the nation. Some seek to make me out as the bad guy. While that may be convenient spin for the party, I will not be the National Party's fall guy," he said.
Ross claimed he is a victim of dirty politics and has been painted as a scapegoat.
Zhang and the Zhengs' legal counsel John Katz QC, Paul Dacre QC and Rosemary Thomson also said in a statement last week their clients would be defending the charges, which came about during "unprecedented political infighting".
"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," the statement read.
"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 mudslinging during the high-profile fallout following Jami-Lee Ross' revelations and allegations about the National Party and will be defending the charges against them."
Ross and the National Party split before he lodged a complaint with police in October 2018, after making a string of allegations against National and its leader Simon Bridges.
The complaint was then referred to the SFO by police in March last year. Ross has claimed Bridges had asked him to collect a $100,000 donation from Zhang, which was then divided into smaller amounts to hide it.
Zhang was awarded a New Zealand Order of Merit in 2018 for services to New Zealand-China relations and the Chinese community.
The Botany MP's filmed statement followed name suppression lifting for all four men after Zhang and the Zhengs asked a judge to revoke the interim gag order.
Bridges has continuously denied Ross' allegations.
"I have always maintained, as I have always said the allegations against both myself and the party were baseless and false," Bridges said in a statement after the SFO charges were laid.
"This was always just a vendetta by a disgruntled former MP."
Charging documents against the group allege two donations of $100,000 in 2017 and $100,050 in 2018 were made "in circumstances where the identity of the donor was not disclosed in the National Party's Annual Return of Party Donations".
"The defendants adopted a fraudulent device, trick, or stratagem whereby the 2018 donation was split into sums of money less than $15,000, and transferred into the bank accounts of eight people, before being paid to, and retained by, the National Party," the SFO alleges in the documents.
The same allegation is made by the SFO for the 2017 donation.
Hengjia Zheng, listed as a site manager in court papers, is charged alongside the three others over the 2018 donation, while also being accused of supplying false information to the SFO.