As it happened: Another chaotic day in the Simon Bridges vs Jami-Lee Ross saga

The serious allegations made against National leader Simon Bridges by former National MP Jami-Lee Ross on Tuesday have shocked the nation. 

He accused his former boss of electoral fraud in a press conference, calling him a "corrupt politician". Mr Bridges responded with his own press conference, defending himself and vehemently denying the accusations.  

The fallout from the political scandal rolled into another day with Mr Ross making a police complaint against Mr Bridges - and releasing audio of a secretly-recorded conversation between the two.

Live updates have now ended.

The serious allegations made against National leader Simon Bridges by former National MP Jami-Lee Ross on Tuesday have shocked the nation.
The serious allegations made against National leader Simon Bridges by former National MP Jami-Lee Ross on Tuesday have shocked the nation. Photo credit: Newshub

6:05pm - Here's the full six-minute recording of the conversation between Simon Bridges and Jami-Lee Ross in June.

5:56pm - He says Mr Ross has no friends in Parliament, but he does have connections with spin doctors like Simon Lusk.

5:55pm - He's reiterating his claim that Mr Ross was trying to set him up to say something incriminating in the recorded conversation.

He says anyone could hear he was tired and going through the motions and his heart wasn't in his words.

5:54pm - "I'm somewhat of a rough diamond" who believes in law and order, Mr Bridges says.

"I'm not perfect, I'm a rough diamond, but I sleep well at night. I've got integrity."

He's still very confident in his leadership and has more strong words for Mr Ross.

"He's a terrible person. We're going to put him behind us."

5:52pm - He's refusing to apologise to the Chinese and Indian communities for the tenor of his comments.

He says he thinks Kiwis will understand what he meant in his "blunt, frank comments" and doesn't believe an apology is in order.

5:50pm - Mr Bridges says Mr Ross' claims that he broke the law in how he handled the Cathedral Club donation is "fanciful nonsense"

He said it was just a clerical error, and is "not for a minute" worried that the police investigation will find him guilty of wrongdoing.

5:49pm - Mr Bridges says Mr Ross is "wrong in every regard around electoral laws".

"Nothing he said stacks up."

He says he probably won't sue him because it's "not worth the time and effort", despite his claims that Mr Ross defamed and tried to blackmail him.

5:48pm - Mr Bridges says if Mr Zhang thought his donation would buy a candidacy, he "categorically did not get that from me".

5:47pm - When confronted about his comments about Chinese MPs, he says he's proud of the party seeking accurate cultural representation.

"It was a blunt, private conversation."

He says Mr Ross tried to set him up. He also denies that he suggested donations could buy candidacy for the National Party.

5:43pm - Mr Bridges says the newly-released recording doesn't back up Mr Ross' claims of electoral donation fraud.

He says he believes Mr Ross has been secretly recording him for "many, many months".

"It's a monumental breach of trust."

He says he's glad the leak inquiry brought Mr Ross' behaviour to the fore, and is glad he's no longer part of the caucus.

5:40pm - Simon Bridges has emerged and is addressing media. He's opening with a heartfelt apology to Maureen Pugh for his "entirely thoughtless" comments about her.

"It's a big and hard lesson for me," he says.

He mentioned the other MPs he criticised in the conversation, and says National is proud of its multiculturalism.

He's got strong words for Jami-Lee Ross.

"He has defamed me and he is a liar."

Mr Bridges is denying all accusations of wrongdoing. He admits attending a fundraiser at which Yikun Zhang offered a donation of $100,000.

He says Mr Ross knows Mr Zhang very well and so handed him the task of collecting and organising donations. 

5:25pm - Simon Bridges is about to speak to media.

5:10pm - The conversation between Mr Bridges and Mr Ross seemed to indicate that donations are a way to buy candidacy for the National Party.

"There's no catch to it," Mr Ross can be heard saying of the $100,000 donation from Chinese businessman Yikun Zhang.

He mentions Colin Zheng, the younger donor, having put his name down for "candidates college".

"I assume he’ll get through candidates college, and we'll just make some decisions as a party further down the track as to what we want to do with candidates."

4:50pm - Simon Bridges says he's just met with Maureen Pugh, who he called "f**king useless" in the just-released audio. 

He says he's "unreservedly apologised" for his comment, and that he values her work.

4:45pm - In the newly-released audio of the June 4 conversation, Simon Bridges can be heard slagging off several National MPs he says "need to go".

"I reckon there's three of our MPs - not bringing up obvious ones like [Chris] Finlayson or [David] Carter - but actually we just want them to go," he said.

"Like, Maureen Pugh is f**king useless."

Jami-Lee Ross replied: "Carter, Finlayson, Nicky Wagner, they don't really need to hang around."

"We don't want them to go this year though," said Mr Bridges. "We want to do it well, we just want to think it all through."

4:30pm - Jami-Lee Ross has tweeted that the audio he released proves Simon Bridges knew about the $100,000 donation. 

4:08pm - Jami-Lee Ross has released the audio of the June 4 conversation on Facebook because he couldn't work out how to post it to Twitter.

4:05pm - Wellington Police have confirmed they received Mr Ross' complaint about the disclosure of political donations under the Electoral Act on Wednesday.

"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," Police said in a statement.

"While we will not put a timeframe on how long this will take, we can say that this will be progressed as quickly as the information presented to us allows."

Police say they take any allegations of Electoral Act offences seriously and they won't be confirming any specific actions or providing commentary despite high public interest in the matter. 

3:56pm - Newshub has obtained the recording of the six-minute June 4 conversation between Jami-Lee Ross and Simon Bridges.

3:44pm - He says National general manager Greg Hamilton questioned the identities of the alleged donors because they couldn't be found. He doesn't know if those are real people or if they were made up - he didn't recognise any of them.

He says the donation was split into seven lots of $14,000, plus another $2000.

3:42pm - Mr Ross denies he was the one to split up the $100,000 donation.

"I have not touched any money. I do not have access to the bank account it went into. I do not have the ability to split that donation up."

He says he was asked by Mr Bridges to get in touch with the donor and provide the bank account number for the funds to go into. When the donation came in split up, he says he was given names and addresses of people who should be declared for those party donations.

He says he had no contact with Zhang Yikun.

3:39pm - He says Mr Bridges knew he needed a tidy electoral donation expenses form because he wanted to run for party leader in the future.

3:38pm - He says Mr Bridges put down the Cathedral Club rather than the name of actual donor Aaron Bhatnagar shows he engaged in corrupt practices.

3:36pm - Mr Ross says Mr Bridges acted in a corrupt manner by attributing a donation to the "made-up" Cathedral Club, despite the fact he later amended that. He says this violated the Electoral Act.

3:33pm - He admits Mr Bridges didn't tell him to split up the $100,000 donation in the recording he will release. He says it was on May 21 he told him to split it up.

He admits it's his word against Mr Bridges and has no clear evidence, but says his transparency about everything else should make him believable. 

He says he regrets not recording the May 21 conversation.

3:32pm - He says National has stepped over the line to bring up his personal life, and that this new form of dirty politics could mean bad things for many more politicians.

"The National Party will do everything they can to support the leader."

3:30pm - He's denied all knowledge of the improper conduct Paula Bennett has accused him of as a married man. 

3:29pm - The term 'dirty politics' has come up.  Mr Ross says National has engaged in dirty politics in trying to smear him without giving him a chance to defend himself.

He says he's given serious thought to releasing the recording of Mr Bridges threatening to have 15 women come forward to accuse him of misconduct.

3:28pm - He says he's perfectly happy with all his conduct toward women and wishes his colleagues would have talked to him about the allegations directly.

He says he's spoken to Simon Lusk this morning who has given him advice. 

3:27pm - Once more he's brought up his personal recordings.

"I'm happy for New Zealanders to judge whether they think I'm lying or whether the National Party is lying."

He says National is playing dirty because they're a struggling party.

3:25pm - Mr Ross has addressed his mental health.

"When I was confronted in Mr Bridges' office, I was staggered and could not defend myself. They acted as judge, jury and executioner in a matter of minutes. I did suffer a medical event at that time, it was challenging for me. I've worked with medical professionals and been given assistance, and now I'm well."

He says he never intended to spend that much time away from Parliament, and his doctor advised Pauls Bennett directly that he was fit to work and make decisions.

"I'm comfortable with my state of health."

"Are Paula Bennett and Simon Bridges better medical professionals than a trained doctor? I don't think so."

3:23pm - "I don't regularly record phone conversations."

He says he felt he needed to record subsequent conversations with Mr Bridges for his own self-protection as he sensed the National Party was trying to push him out with false accusations. 

3:22pm - "When I'm accused of being a liar, I have texts and information which will prove I'm not a liar. They can call me a liar if they want."

3:20pm - He's addressed Paula Bennett's allegations about improper conduct for a married man

He says he recorded more conversations in Mr Bridges' office which he thinks will prove his innocence.

"I thought Paula was better than that," he says.

3:19pm - He says the police didn't indicate whether they thought he had a reasonable case.

He says he'll be uploading the recording of the conversation to Twitter as soon as he leaves the media stand-up.

3:17pm - He says he spent the last several hours with three detective senior sergeants outlining his concerns around Simon Bridges' actions. He says he played them the recording.

3:15pm – Mr Ross has emerged from the police station and is addressing media.

3:10pm - Mr Ross is about to emerge from the police station.

3:00pm - Media are still waiting for Jami-lee Ross to emerge from the police station. He's now been inside the building for two hours.

1:30pm - Southland District Mayor Gary Tong is in China as a guest of the millionaire Chinese businessman Zhang Yikun, who allegedly donated $100,000 to Simon Bridges' campaign.

Mr Yikun was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit in September for his services to New Zealand-China relations.

1pm - Jami-Lee Ross has arrived to hand in evidence to Wellington police that he says will prove his allegations of corruption against Simon Bridges. 

It's understood he will release the recordings to media this afternoon. 

"I have proof that we discussed a $100,000 donation on the phone," Mr Ross told press in Wellington on Wednesday afternoon.

"I have a recording that we discussed $100,000, and that was a donation that Simon Bridges was offered by Zhang Yikun."

"[Mr Bridges] called me excited by the donation and asked that I collect it, and subsequently I had the presence of mind, knowing what I was being asked to do, to record the phone conversation. That's the evidence that I have."

"I was asked to do some things with that donation which I want to talk to the police about. On the phone, it was very explicit that he wanted me to ensure that it wasn't made public."

Mr Ross told press on Tuesday that he allegedly accepted a request from Mr Bridges to break up a $100,000 donation into smaller pieces, below the legal threshold for named disclosure.

12:30pm - National deputy leader Paula Bennett has suggested the party may bring in auditors to investigate an alleged unlawful donation to Simon Bridges' campaign. 

But Ms Bennett told Stuff Jami-Lee Ross might be held accountable for any illegal activity - not Simon Bridges. "We need to see the detail of what he is talking about," she said. 

12pm - The identity of the person who donated $10,000 to 'Cathedral Club' has come forward to reveal himself as Auckland millionaire and investor Aaron Bhatnagar.

He took to Facebook to note that the Cathedral Club was an "informal pay-your-own-way dinner club that started in 2001," comprised of a "small group" of National supporters.

The group met in the Cathedral Room of the old Auckland Club, he said, where "interesting guests across the political divide" attended. Among the guests Mr Bhatnagar listed were Winston Peters, Rodney Hide and Michelle Boag.

"I'm happy to be noted as giving $10,000 to the National Party in 2017," he said on Facebook. "In addition, I have supported candidates in National with lesser sized donations in the past."

A party insider revealed to The AM Show host Duncan Garner earlier this week that Mr Bridges' election returns were handed in late after amendments were made.

Two donations - one of $10,000, another of $14,000 - were initially recorded on Mr Bridges' own return, but removed and placed on the National Party's return instead. The $10,000 donation came from 'Cathedral Club'.

In Jami-Lee Ross' Tuesday press conference, he alleged Simon Bridges accepted a $100,000 donation from Chinese businessman Zhang Yikun and asked him to split it into small amounts to hide it from the Electoral Commission.

10:30am - "This is hell for [Simon Bridges]," says Newshub's political editor Tova O'Brien. 

O'Brien told The AM Show police will be able to decide if an investigation into Simon Bridges is necessary once Jami-Lee Ross has handed his alleged proof of illegal activity to them. 

"This is all going to be looked at through the lens of Simon Bridges' leadership and whether he can hold on as leader," O'Brien said, alluding to talk of him being replaced.  

"Even if you're a Jacinda Ardern or John Key type of popular leader, having these kinds of allegations... that would be a nightmare. For Simon Bridges, who's failed to resonate and done really badly in the polls... this is absolute hell for him."

O'Brien has been involved with the debacle from the start. In August, she was sent leaked documents detailing Mr Bridges' Crown limo expenses, which led to a PwC investigation by Mr Bridges into who leaked them.  

Much of the investigation revolved around a text sent to Mr Bridges, the Speaker Trevor Mallard and O'Brien on August 16, in which the anonymous sender (claiming to be a National MP) confessed to the leak and asked for the inquiry to be called off for the benefit of their mental health.

The report has found that the text message sender was probably - but not definitively - Jami-Lee Ross, who Mr Bridges has already claimed was behind the leak.

Newshub's political editor Tova O'Brien  told The AM Show police will be able to decide if an investigation into Simon Bridges is necessary once Jami-Lee Ross has handed his alleged proof of illegal activity to them.
Newshub's political editor Tova O'Brien told The AM Show police will be able to decide if an investigation into Simon Bridges is necessary once Jami-Lee Ross has handed his alleged proof of illegal activity to them. Photo credit: The AM Show

9:00am - Kim Doctom has weighed in on the Simon Bridges vs Jami-Lee Ross scandal, taking Mr Ross' side and offering him legal assistance. 

"I would like to have a chat with you [Jami-Lee Ross]," the founder of the now-defunct file hosting service Megaupload said on Twitter. 

"You may need legal assistance and election support and I'm happy to help. The morally bankrupt now have one goal: To discredit & destroy you," he said. 

Mr Ross announced during his Tuesday press conference he will resign from the National Party on Friday and will stand as an independent candidate in a by-election for Botany, where he was MP. 

Dotcom slammed political commentators Bryce Edwards and Josie Pagani for comparing Mr Ross to a jihadi terrorist for his explosive actions against Simon Bridges. 

The commentators appeared on Three's The Project on Tuesday night to give their takes on the tumultuous events of Monday and Tuesday. 

"It's like there's an ISIS cell in the National Party and Jihadi Jami hasn't read the plan and he's gone too soon. I've never seen anything quite like it," Ms Pagani said. 

Political commentators Bryce Edwards and Josie Pagani compared Jami-Lee Ross to a jihadi terrorist for his explosive actions against Simon Bridges.
Political commentators Bryce Edwards and Josie Pagani compared Jami-Lee Ross to a jihadi terrorist for his explosive actions against Simon Bridges. Photo credit: The Project

8:40am - Massey University Law Professor Chris Gallavan told The AM Show the word "corrupt", which Mr Ross used to described Mr Bridges, is found in the Electoral Act 1993

"Obviously Mr Ross has read the legislation in order to be able to use this notion of corrupt practice," he said. "It could be corrupt practice if Simon Bridges is found guilty of knowingly filing a false return." 

"All MPs have to file a return for any donation that's made to them as a candidate and there is a difference between donations made to a candidate and donations made to the party."

"That's why there's this talk of the potential of splitting up a $100,000 donation to a candidate where the reporting requirements kick-in at $1500, so it's pretty low, and as far as the party is concerned, it's $15,000."

If a candidate files a return that they know to be false because it's got incorrect information, such as being from an anonymous donor and they know it's not, or if it's been manipulated it in some way, it's a corrupt practice.

Massey University Law Professor Chris Gallavan told The AM Show the word "corrupt", which Mr Ross used to described Mr Bridges, is found in the Electoral Act 1993.
Massey University Law Professor Chris Gallavan told The AM Show the word "corrupt", which Mr Ross used to described Mr Bridges, is found in the Electoral Act 1993. Photo credit: The AM Show

8:00am - National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett told The AM Show there have been no official complaints of harassment against Jami-Lee Ross. 

This contradicts Mr Ross' claims on Tuesday that Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett allegedly accused him of harassing four women. He said their story changed over time. 

Mr Ross said the women had not approached their employer, Parliamentary Services, which further raised Mr Ross' suspicions. He said the "changing nature of the story made me think it was a bluff".

Ms Bennett took to Twitter on Tuesday to call Mr Ross' behaviour disloyal and "threatening". 

7:30am - Duncan Garner, host of The AM Show, said he's been informed that Jami-Lee Ross is going to the police Wednesday afternoon to hand over what he claims is evidence that Simon Bridges committed electoral fraud.  

During Mr Ross' press conference on Tuesday, he claimed Mr Bridges took a $100,000 donation from Chinese businessman Zhang Yikun and asked him to split it into small amounts to hide it from the Electoral Commission.  

Mr Bridges called these allegations "entirely false", and said he invites the police to investigate "fully" and "properly". Mr Ross later uploaded images to social media showing Mr Bridges at an event with the Chinese businessman. 

Newshub. 

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