Jami-Lee Ross has spoken for the first time about the allegations levelled against him by the Serious Fraud Office, saying the charges are "outrageous" after he blew the whistle and came forward to authorities.
He said he is a victim of dirty politics and has been painted as a scapegoat.
The Botany MP was today named as one of four people charged by the SFO over allegations about two $100,000 donations to the National Party in 2017 and 2018.
It comes after the other three accused, businessmen Yikun Zhang, Shijia (Colin) Zheng, and Hengjia (Joe) Zheng, asked a judge yesterday to revoke their interim name suppression.
All three said they will be defending the accusations, which came about during 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," said the trio's legal counsel, John Katz QC, Paul Dacre QC and Rosemary Thomson.
"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."
All four men are due to appear in court for the first time next Tuesday to answer to the charges.
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.
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However, in a filmed statement to the Herald at a downtown Auckland law firm, Ross said he never wanted suppression for himself.
"Just like donations to political parties, the justice system should be open and transparent. That is what I believe and have sought," he said, talking about the case for the first time since being criminally charged last month.
"Until now, however, I have been unable to make a public statement regarding these allegations, despite wanting to do so."
Judge Eddie Paul had granted all four men temporary secrecy after hearing was rushed through after 5pm in the Auckland District Court on January 31 as journalists indicated they would identify the group.
"I was not aware of their application at the time. I made no application for suppression of my own name or details," Ross said, who was not represented at the January hearing.
He said he was shocked to be "targeted" by the SFO but had "no intention of hiding away".
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.
"I always wanted to make it very clear that as the whistleblower on this deception, it was outrageous that I was then charged and that others were seeking to implicate me, making me their expendable scapegoat," Ross said confidently.
However, he would not answer specific questions about his claims against Bridges.
Bridges, meanwhile, 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."
A spokeswoman for Bridges said today: "We stand by our previous statements on this matter. As it is before the courts we have no further comments to make."
Bridges told reporters in Parliament yesterday he was unaware the SFO's allegations related to two donations but said he couldn't comment further while the case was before the courts.
Ross said his decision to go to the police, sparking the SFO investigation and charges against him, was "not just because I had been the victim of broken promises made to me by Mr Bridges".
Rather, he said there was an issue which needed to be "openly and honestly addressed for the benefit of the country".
"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."
When the donations were made, he said he was not aware of any conspiracy to defeat the requirements of the Electoral Act.
"While I do not know what other connected parties have claimed, I deny that I was involved. I will defend myself and make that clear," Ross continued.
"I have no intention of letting those who were involved get away with it or blame me in a way that is for their benefit or the National Party's benefit. Politics is dirty. I know that know and have been the victim of this. But New Zealand's politics must never be corrupt."
Ross said he will defend his position in court and specifically, the allegations he was a participant in any deception.
"But so it is clear, I wasn't," he said.
"When I am permitted to say more and present evidence, I will. It will then be clear who was behind any scheme but the public statement from Mr Bridges and the party that they had no involvement is simply untrue."
The donations, Ross said, were for the National Party.
"They were taken and used by the National Party," he claimed.
"The donations that led me to blow the whistle were offered to Mr Bridges, not me. They were not for my own political or personal use. They improved Mr Bridges' position, not mine. I had nothing to gain at all.
"To the extent I played a party, that was as asked of me by the party leader. Any suggestion that I might be behind any deception is simply untrue. The party, and those who now make this claim, seek to blacken my name in order to avoid accountability for themselves."
In his nearly 10-minute statement, Ross also dispelled rumours he was going to use parliament as a platform to talk about the case.
"The public could rightly be outraged, if I did not respect the court's decision, or if I sought to abuse my freedom of speech in Parliament to circumvent that decision," he said.
"Unfortunately I remain constrained at this time in what I can say, as the issue is now before the court. As much as I would like to provide detail and evidence about what I now know, my lawyers have reiterated to me that these matters need to be tried in court and that it is not permitted for me, or anyone else, to try and do so in the media. I will say all that I need to say when I am permitted to do so."
Speaking in the House today during a debate on the Prime Minister's statement, Finance Minister Grant Robertson started to speak about the charges.
But Speaker Trevor Mallard stopped him, saying that Standing Orders did not allow an MP to speak to the House about matters that were before the courts without the Speaker's permission, which had not been sought.
Ross continued and said he wanted "everyone to know and understand my position".
"I have never been involved in any deception to do with donations.
"In fact I was the one that took this concern to the authorities, as you all know. I felt that I needed to expose the concerns that I had about the donations in 2018 that had been offered to Mr Bridges, in person, at an event that I was not in attendance at."
He said he was now "being painted as the scapegoat" for a political scandal.
"I am painted as the scapegoat because I left the National Party after raising these concerns and because promises made to me by Mr Bridges in his campaign to be leader were not honoured by him.
"On the receipt of new and further information, months after donations were received by the National Party, I was concerned that the donations were not made in compliance with the requirements of the Electoral Act. As soon as I learned this further information, I advised the party to return the donations."
Ross ended his statement thanking his supporters and by saying he will "continue to campaign for greater transparency in our laws around political fundraising".
"As much as I want to say more, as you know, I am unable to comment further. The details of the matter will be made public and can be reported on during any future trial. I look forward to that opportunity and I believe that I have the evidence to establish what I say."