Serious Fraud Office will consider if electoral system 'rorted' over National's political donations - law professor

The Serious Fraud Office's (SFO) involvement in Jami-Lee Ross' complaint about political donations will be fundamental in investigating if someone has tried to "rort" our electoral system, according to a leading law professor.

On Tuesday, police confirmed the complaint, received in October last year, was in relation to the disclosure of political donations under the Electoral Act and it had been referred to the SFO.

In October last year, Mr Ross went to the police over allegations National Party leader Simon Bridges was involved in unlawful activity relating to the handling of a $100,000 donation.

Mr Ross said the donation was broken into smaller amounts to avoid detection from the Electoral Commission.

The SFO's website says the agency investigates and prosecutes "serious or complex financial crime", and University of Otago professor Andrew Geddis told Newshub the referral meant the complaint was being taken seriously.

"Having the Serious Fraud Office being asked to look at this does indicate it is quite a serious matter," he said.

Mr Geddis said the SFO would thoroughly examine the claims and consider if New Zealand's electoral system had been manipulated.

"How did that donation come to be broken up in that way? Did that money come from individual real people? If it didn't, then it looks like someone has tried to rort our election donation system," he told Newshub.

But Mr Bridges denies involvement and said the matter is one for the party.

"I'm very clear it's got no involvement for me. We'll see what the National Party has to say."

When asked if he has full confidence that the National Party hasn't done anything wrong, it took him a while to finally say yes.

"I've got nothing that concerns me about any of this... I don't think National MPs have anything to worry about. We have nothing to hide. We do want to see swift justice here."

Mr Geddis said, ultimately, if illegal activity was found to have occurred, an individual would be blamed.

"The National party itself can't be prosecuted, because under our electoral law, all matters fall back on individual members of the party or individual people in the party administration"

Mr Ross on Tuesday defended himself from claims that he could face prosecution if it was discovered he had broken up smaller donations to hide them from the Electoral Commission.

"I have seen in some media stories a claim or a statement that I broke up the $100,000. I did not," he told media in Wellington.

"The funds, before it entered National Party accounts, came in in amounts smaller than the $15,000 disclosure threshold.

"The $100,000 donation was offered by the donor directly to Simon [Bridges] on the 21st May and it was after that contact with Simon at a National Party event in the Epsom electorate that he then phoned me and asked me to initiate contact with the donor. 

"The $100,000 was not broken up by me, and any stories claiming that are incorrect."

Mr Ross said he understands there is some "work being done in relation to tracking the money backwards into different accounts".


Contact Newshub with your story tips: