National MP Jami-Lee Ross has resigned from the National Party and Parliament, following the bizarre saga over the leak of Simon Bridges’ expenses.
Almost simultaneously the National Party caucus was voting to expel the rogue MP who has levelled serious accusations at Bridges – his once-close ally.
The resignation comes after Bridges pointed the finger at Ross as the leaker of his expenses, following an investigation by PwC. As the leak scandal blew up, allegations around Ross’ conduct towards at least four women also emerged as part of what Bridges referred to as a “pattern of behaviour”.
The report into the leak of the expenses to a Newshub journalist in August found the source of the leak – and the sender of the text message from the person claiming to be the leaker – had not been identified “with certainty”.
But it went on to say: “The evidence we have identified points to Mr Ross.”
Ross strongly denies being the leaker of the travel expenses, and moments before Bridges spoke to media on Monday, Ross unleashed a barrage of tweets accusing Bridges of breaking the law, and forcing him out on medical leave, due to a personal vendetta.
This morning, Ross addressed the media, following the party’s caucus meeting, where National MPs also voted to expel him from the party.
During a lengthy address, where he attacked Bridges’ ability as leader and conduct, Ross said he was ending his National Party membership, and resigning as a member of Parliament.
Ross detailed numerous accusations relating to Bridges’ electoral returns, saying the National Party leader had engaged in “corrupt”, and “unlawful” practices.
He alleged Bridges asked him to help “hide” a $100,000 donation from Chinese businessman Yikun Zhang. Ross said the donor, who was awarded a New Zealand Order of Merit earlier this year, did nothing wrong.
Bridges has denied any wrongdoing relating to his electoral returns, and said he had not broken the law.
He invited Ross to go to police with his claims – something Ross said he would do on Wednesday.
Ross said he could no longer service in a political party led by a “corrupt politician”.
Ross said he’d had a “dramatic falling out” with Bridges, and that led to Bridges targeting him, and attempting to push him out.
He also referred to falling favourability ratings, saying Bridges was not fit to be Prime Minister.
Bridges said Ross was a “lone wolf MP”, and the party was “united and strong”.
“He’s no longer part of our caucus; he’s irrelevant,” Bridges said following the National caucus meeting.
Ross had “lied, leaked and was lashing out”, and the public would see Ross for what he was, he said.
Bridges said he had not broken any electoral laws but refused to comment on the details of Ross’ allegations.
Meanwhile, he said his leadership had not been discussed during the morning’s meeting.
While National MPs had stayed on-message while arriving at Parliament this morning, saying the party was strong and backed Bridges – the saga had called many to question his leadership.
Ross said Bennett and Bridges approached him three weeks ago, with harassment allegations from four women. Following this the MP said he suffered a mental breakdown and took medical leave.
He said he was now well, and wanted to speak out about what had happened. He strongly denied ever having harassed a woman.
Ross’ public fall from grace comes as further allegations relating to his conduct emerge.
He was the subject of detailed representations to officials who run the party nationally and in Auckland about his crude political methods around his home electorate of Botany, including verbal threats and intimidation.
One person affected told Newsroom it was clear then that if National Party officials had “acted earlier on what was clearly very serious complaints (intimidation and bullying), they may not be facing this debacle now”.
While the PwC report wasn’t entirely conclusive, it found on the balance of probabilities that Ross was the leaker, and was the person who sent the text to Bridges, the Speaker and the Newshub journalist.
Bridges said John Billington QC independently assessed the investigation report, and in his opinion, “on the balance of probabilities” the evidence established Ross was the person who leaked the expenses and sent the anonymous text message.
The report details the steps taken by the National Party leader’s office, the Speaker, and police, following the text.
It reveals Ross spoke to a senior police officer from his district nine times, with the calls clustered around the time of significant events relating to the leak saga. It also detailed the date, time and length of 10 calls from Ross to a RNZ journalist who was leaked details of the text message.
It did not show any phone or email correspondence between Ross and the Newshub journalist who was leaked the initial expenses document.