Chinese multi-millionaire Yikun Zhang was put forward for a Queen's Birthday honour by the National Party.
Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross yesterday claimed Zhang made a $100,000 donation to the National Party.
That donation is now at the centre of claims by Ross about unlawful conduct by the party's leader Simon Bridge.
There is no suggestion that Zhang acted improperly in any way in relation to the donation.
The Herald has learned Yikun Zhang of Remuera - who Ross said had done nothing wrong - was among those put forward by the National Party on its way out of office.
Inquiries have revealed the nomination carried the names of current National MP Jian Yang, former National MP Eric Roy and Auckland mayor Phil Goff.
Zhang, who owns $40 million in Auckland property, was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen's Birthday Honours list.
The Office of the Prime Minister is consulted on the awarding of honours although the change in administration usually sees a delay in the new government nominees being put forward.
Normal practice general sees the incoming administration sign off those nominated by the previous government. It is understood most of those under National went through in the New Year's Honours but a number - including the nomination for Zhang - didn't go through until the Queen's Birthday Honours.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister would not discuss the awarding of the honour.
"Honours matters are treated in strictest confidence. It is not the Prime Minister's policy to comment on matters relating to honours recognition for particular individuals."
Ross thrust the businessman into the national spotlight yesterday with claims that a $100,000 donation from Zhang had then been split into smaller chunks so its origins could be hidden.
He told reporters that he did not believe Zhang was guilty of any wrong doing and had simply been caught up in Bridges' alleged plan to circumvent campaign funding rules.
Ross - in an extraordinary press conference - said: "On the 14th of May this year I attended a dinner with Simon Bridges at the home of a wealthy Chinese businessman."
He later named Zhang and then tweeted pictures of Bridges and Zhang at the dinner.
Ross said Bridges rang the following week, having been at a fundraiser for National list MP Paul Goldsmith, who lives in the Epsom electorate which includes Zhang's home.
"He was excited because he was offered a $100,000 donation from the same wealthy Chinese businessman.
"Simon asked me to collect this donation. He was at pains to point out the donation should not be made public and could I ensure this."
Ross said he did as Bridges asked, splitting the money into chunks smaller than the $15,000 limit at which donations had to be declared.
"The full $100,000 donation has not been disclosed to the Electoral Commission."
Ross said he recorded a conversation with Bridges on June 20 during which the donation was discussed. The Botany MP said he asked - in the recording - what Bridges wanted done with the money.
Ross said he later told a party manager to raise concerns if he believed electoral law had not been complied with.
Bridges denied any breach of the law and accused Ross of lashing out after being exposed as the likely source of an information leak to the media.
"I have done absolutely nothing wrong and that will be shown to be the case."
There were those in the caucus room who knew Zhang ahead of Ross' explosive allegation, and prior to the awarding of the Queen's Birthday honour this year from the Governor General.
In the announcement with the honour described Zhang as founder and chairman of the Chao Shan General Association, which aims to promote Chinese culture and bridge the cultural gap between east Asian immigrants and New Zealand.
It stated he had "organised a range of events and initiatives for the Chinese community" including setting up a youth branch and a scholarship scheme, while also helping promote trade between China and New Zealand.
National's deputy leader Paula Bennett - while deputy Prime Minister - posted a photograph of herself in July 2017 sitting at a table with Zhang.
She described the occasion in a caption, saying it was at the "opening of Chao Shan General Association of New Zealand's new Function Centre".
Zhang was the host seated closest to Bennett, one step removed by National Party colleague Jian Yang. Also at the table were fellow MPs Parmjeet Parmar MP and Jami-Lee Ross and then-candidate for Pakuranga, Simeon Brown.
One of the photographs on Bennett's post includes a huge banner behind the four National MPs and candidate. The banner recognises the "20th Teochew International Conference" - the same event for which Zhang was recognised as having a "key role" in securing hosting rights during his investiture ceremony at Government House.
The National Party leader's office confirmed that Yang had added his name in support to the nomination.
A spokesman said: "Jian supported the nomination because he believes Yikun Zhang has made a valuable contribution to his community and to New Zealand. He stands by that recommendation."
Former National MP Eric Roy said he had also done so, and said his motivation was entirely non-political.
He said Zhang's lawyer had approached him to ask if he would support the nomination. It was being sought as a way to underscore Zhang's status as the host of the international conference he was bring to New Zealand.
Zhang was a personal friend, he said. They pair had met after Roy promoted the Southern Institute of Technology in China, with Zhang having a connection to a similar institution in his birth country.
"It certainly wasn't connected in any way to anything in the National Party."
The process sees nominations submitted to the Honours Unit at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. It then goes before the Cabinet Appointments and Honours Committee, which is chaired by the Prime Minister. Responsibility for recommendations to the Queen sits with the Prime Minister or a minister acting for the Prime Minister.
Zhang was said by staff and family to be in China yesterday. He was not returning text or email requests for comment.
While his wealth is in property, his only visible Auckland business is a Remuera-based building company called KCC Construction.
At yesterday's press conference, Ross quit the party and announced he would stand in a byelection even as National's caucus met to discuss his fate.
The fallout comes after Bridges' travel expenses were leaked and an inquiry by the Speaker to find the culprit was called off amid concerns for the person's mental health.
National forged ahead with the inquiry, which reported on Monday that it was likely Ross had disclosed the details.