After being found guilty of obtaining by deception over large donations made to the National Party, a Chinese businessman has formally stepped down from his role as a Justice of the Peace
One of the men convicted in a high-profile political donations case has officially resigned from his position as a Justice of the Peace, while the fate of the royal honour given to another remains unclear.
Colin Zheng and Yikun Zhang, alongside Colin’s brother Joe, were found guilty of obtaining by deception in October following a seven-week trial over donations made to the National and Labour parties several years earlier.
Colin Zheng was made a Justice of the Peace (or JP) in 2017, after being nominated by Botany MP Jami Lee Ross.
While Zheng avoided a jail sentence following his conviction, instead receiving community sentences alongside the other two men, his lawyer Paul Dacre KC noted during the sentencing process that he was now ineligible to continue as a JP regardless.
A December 15 notice in the New Zealand Gazette, the Government’s official journal, notes that Zheng has officially resigned as a JP.
The Serious Fraud Office had prosecuted Zhang and the Zheng brothers, as well as former National MP Jami-Lee Ross, for deceit in breaking up two $100,000 donations to National, in 2017 and 2018.
Zhang and the Zheng brothers were found guilty over one donation to National in 2018, with Colin Zheng guilty over a donation to National in 2017 and Joe Zheng guilty of lying to the Serious Fraud Office.
Ross, who had first brought one of the donations to light in a bid to take down leader Simon Bridges, was found not guilty. The four men, and three other people with name suppression, were all acquitted over a separate $60,000 donation to Labour in 2017.
Following the guilty verdicts, some observers also queried Zhang’s status as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, a royal honour he received in 2018 after the previous National government put his name forward; Zhang received letters of support from National Party president Peter Goodfellow and former Labour Party MP Phil Goff, among others.
An honour can be removed on the advice of the prime minister, who can ask the King to cancel the person’s appointment “where an individual’s actions are such that, if they continue to hold that honour, the honours system would be brought into disrepute”.
Official guidelines say the prime minister does not comment on whether the recipient of an honour is being considered for forfeiture, while the Gazette does not show any notice indicating Zhang’s honour has been removed.
Dacre said his client would not wish to comment on his resignation as a JP while John Katz KC, who represented Zhang at trial, said he was unable to comment on the matter of the royal honour as he had received no instructions from his client.