Jami-Lee Ross' recording of Simon Bridges reveals that the National Party leader thinks his MP Maureen Pugh is "f***ing useless" - but it is questionable whether it has any solid evidence of electoral fraud.
In discussing getting some new list MPs to make way for some new ones, Bridges said: "I reckon it's all three of our MPs who ... not thinking of obvious ones like [Chris] Finlayson or [David] Carter, but actually we just want them to go. Like Maureen Pugh's f***ing useless."
Bridges has since released a statement saying he had "unreservedly apologised" for his comment.
"It was inappropriate. I value the work she does as the National List MP based in West Coast-Tasman & as our Associate Spokesperson for Children," Bridges said.
"She has gracefully accepted."
I have just met with @MaureenPughNat and unreservedly apologised for my comment. It was inappropriate. I value the work she does as the National List MP based in West Coast-Tasman & as our Associate Spokesperson for Children. She has gracefully accepted.— Simon Bridges (@simonjbridges) October 17, 2018
In the recording, Ross responds by adding National MP Nicky Wagner's name to the list of MPs who may not be wanted.
Bridges responds that he doesn't want them all to go "this year".
The conversation was around how it would be to have the two Chinese people Bridges dined with and who are allegedly behind the donation - Yikun Zhang and Colin Zheng - on the National Party list.
Colin Zheng is the manager of KCC Construction, a company owned by Zhang Yikun.
Bridges said having two Chinese MPs would be "nice", but putting them on the list and keeping everyone happy would be "bloody hard".
"Depends where we're polling ... that sort of thing. Two Chinese would be nice but would it be one Chinese and one Filipino. What do we do?"
Ross replies that two Chinese would be better than two Indians.
Bridges agrees, but says that adding two Chinese would create a "sh*t fight" with sitting MPs. He then talks about cutting some list MPs to make way for new ones, and makes the comment about Finlayson, Carter and Pugh.
Ross says at one point that the donation money has "no strings attached", in spite of the discussion about getting two Chinese MPs.
Ross says that Zheng had enrolled in National's Candidates College.
In the rest of the audio, Bridges says little to suggest that he knowingly filed a false electoral donation.
Bridges acknowledges the dinner he had with Zhang and Zheng, and says "fantastic" when told the $100,000 donation was now sitting in a Botany electorate account.
He says the money could be used for "advertisements and the like".
Ross replies that he doesn't know what Bridges had arranged for the donation with party president Peter Goodfellow, but it needed to be filed as a party donation to remain under the disclosure requirements.
"I don't think we can raise tens of thousands and completely keep him out of the loop. Maybe if you're just honest with him about it," Ross says.
Bridges agrees: "I'll raise it with him [Goodfellow], but we should probably just think it through. It can be in the party, but I just want to make sure we've got that money to do those sorts of things. Don't you think?"
Ross says that party donations should be processed by National Party general manager Greg Hamilton.
"I think he'll accept it, I just need to explain to him what I want it for," Bridges replies. "Leave it with me. I might talk to [National MP Todd] McClay as well, see what he's got up his sleeve."
This afternoon, Ross had a two-hour meeting with police and laid his complaint about what he says was a "corrupt practice" regarding electoral donations.
The ousted MP said he played police this recording he had with Bridges, which Ross says makes it clear that Bridges wanted the person behind the $100,000 donation to be kept secret.
He said he felt "uncomfortable" to be asked to collect the $100,000 donation. so when he called him on June 25, "I felt there was some danger here" and he decided to record the conversation.
Ross then uploaded the audio file to Twitter.
He said Bridges was offered the $100,000 donation and replied "fantastic". He said Bridges asked him to split up the donation on May 21, but he did not have a recording of that conversation.
But he said the taped conversation on June 25 showed that Bridges wanted the donation split up to hide the identity of the donor.
Ross said the $100,000 donation was not split up by him.
Police confirmed they received a complaint at Wellington Central police station regarding the disclosure of political donations today and a Detective Senior Sergeant at Police National Headquarters would look into the matter to determine what further steps may be required from police.
"Police take any complaint regarding alleged Electoral Act offences seriously," a spokesperson said.
"Decisions regarding the outcome of such investigations are made based on the facts and available evidence, and in accordance with the Solicitor General's prosecution guideline
Here is the audio I promised I would share on Twitter of Simon Bridges and I discussing the $100k donation. https://t.co/txcYBQBkOk— Jami-Lee Ross (@jamileeross) October 17, 2018
Police have confirmed that they've received Jami-Lee Ross's complaint over the disclosure of political donations under the Electoral Act.
They say the information supplied will be assessed by a Detective Senior Sergeant at Police National Headquarters to determine what further steps may be required from a police perspective.
There's no time frame on the process but police say it will be done as quickly as the information presented allows.
They also say they take any complaint regarding alleged Electoral Act offences seriously.
Audio full transcript:
Good thanks, buddy, how are you?
Simon Bridges: Good, buddy, good. What have you been up to? Anything exciting?
Ross: Just been meeting with a few people this afternoon. Malcolm Alexander, your good friend…and Stephen Selwood.
Bridges: Yeah, they're both my mates. They've never really done me any favours but that's the way it goes…*inaudible*
Hey you know at Paul Goldsmith's function you saw those two Chinese guys, Zhang Yikun and Colin? You had dinner at their home?
Ross: They talked to you about a hundred thousand dollar donation…
Ross: That is now in.
Ross: What would you like done with it? It's currently sitting in a Botany electorate account.
Bridges: Yeah that's good, I'd need to…I'd say, by the way, on that, just before we get to that. I promised them that we would have dinner at my place, that you should come. I mean, we might as well make a bit of fun of it. The only thing that would be good is if they brought the wine because they've got better wine…
Bridges: When I move into my new house so that's probably…we've got to sell ours. It could be earlier but it's probably around September so we should make good on that because otherwise I've lied to them, because I've said it a couple of times now. We should definitely do that.
Look, I just think we want it for...the advertisements and the like...we want it for the things that we're going to need to do over the next year or so, sort of outside of the- not outside of the party but...like I say we want to do some more attack ads…say we want to do another regional fuel one, say we want to do an industrial relations one. We just want to keep doing those things, right?
Bridges: So look, I'll tell you what. I had cancelled it because I'm at a Chinese function and I'm going to be bloody tired. We could meet this evening briefly. We could talk about this.
Ross: Oh okay…If you want. But we've all accepted that you've got stuff on, I'm not calling about that.
Bridges: The money's fine sitting there in the Botany account. I don't know what your arrangement is with Goodfellow or not, that's all. I need to talk to him. I'm actually seeing him tonight, I wonder if I should.
Ross: I don't think we can.
Bridges: I should wait and get the right words.
Ross: I don't think we can raise tens of thousands and completely keep him out of the loop.
Bridges: No, no we can't.
Ross: Maybe if you're just honest with him about it.
Bridges: I think that's right. I'll raise it with him but we should probably just think it through. I mean, it can be in the Party but I do just want to make sure we've got that money to do those things. Don't you think?
Ross: Donations can only be raised two ways: Party donation or candidate donation.
Party donation has a different disclosure which is fine, and the way they've done it meets the disclosure requirements...it meets the requirements where it's under the particular disclosure level because they're a big association and there's multiple people and multiple people make donations, so that's all fine. But if it was a candidate donation that'd be different. So making them party donations is the way to do it. Legally though if they're party donations they're kind of under Greg's name as the party secretary.
Bridges: We need to tell them, I get that. I get that. I'm going to tell him…I think he'll accept it I just need to explain to him what it is I want it for. Unless I get him to…leave it with me. I might talk to McClay as well; see what he's got up his sleeve. Because Peter is going to be with me at this meeting in Wellington, is all. If I then brought him after that…good work though man, that's a lot of money.
Ross: Yeah they're good people. Now there's no catch or anything to it. You may recall at the dinner they did discuss candidacy, and another Chinese candidate.
Bridges: Two MPs, yeah.
Ross: Colin Zhang? The younger one, he's put his name in for Candidates' College and so I assume he'll get through and we'll make some decisions as a Party further down the track as to what we want to do with candidates.
Bridges: I mean, it's like all these things, it's bloody hard. You've only got so much space. Depends where we're polling, you know? All that sort of thing…two Chinese would be nice, but would it be one Chinese or one Filipino? What do we do?
Ross: Two Chinese would be more valuable than two Indians, I have to say.
Bridges: Which is what we've got at the moment, right? Your problem there is you end up in a s***fight because you've got a list MP – you've got two list MPs – it's a pretty mercenary cull – sitting MPs, all that s***. Then you've got the issue of, you could end up getting rinsed with list MPs and bringing in some of those new ones, and if you do that you're just filling up your lists even further. You've got to sort of look after…I mean I reckon there's two or three of our MPs, not talking about our obvious ones like Finlayson or Carter, the rest you just want to go. Like Maureen Pugh is f***ing useless.
Ross: Yeah, I know. Carter, Finlayson, Nicky Wagner – they don't really need to hang around.
Bridges: Yeah but then…we don't want them to go this year though.
Ross: Oh, no.
Bridges: We don't want them all to go, we want to do it well and we want to think it all through. Look that's really good, look thanks for that, I'll consider when I have a *inaudible* and send you a text in the next half hour if we're going to.