National Party Leader Simon Bridges has come under fire, as he’s pinpointed Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross as the leaker of his travel expenses.
Bridges on Monday afternoon announced a PwC investigation, commissioned by the National Party, indicated Ross leaked his expenses to the media three days before they were due to be released in August.
PwC clarified that while the evidence "points" to Ross as the leaker, there isn't "certainty" around this.
Nonetheless, Bridges said the leak, as well as “other matters” concerning Ross’ conduct, suggested a “pattern”.
He said Ross' future would be determined by the National Party's caucus, but suspension was an option.
Minutes before the announcement was made, Ross took to Twitter to claim he was being framed.
He said he’d fallen out with Bridges some months ago, as he’d questioned his leadership.
“When I started to become expendable, I confronted him with evidence that I had recorded him discussing with me unlawful activity that he was involved in,” Ross tweeted.
“Working on his instruction, he asked me to do things with election donations that broke the law.
“This evidence led Simon to push me out on medical leave a few weeks ago. It was essentially an attempt to stop me from speaking publicly.”
Bridges announced on October 2 that Ross was going on leave for a few months, as he was dealing with health issues he dubbed personal, private, sensitive and “embarrassing”.
He clarified the situation was separate to the leak investigation.
Then on Monday morning, AM Show host Duncan Garner revealed a National Party insider had told him Bridges’ election returns were handed in late after amendments were made. One donation of $10,000, and another of $14,000 were initially recorded on Bridges' own return, but removed and placed on the National Party's return instead.
Bridges confirmed on the show that the leak was true.
The larger donation came from Cubro Ltd, which Mr Bridges said was a healthcare business in Tauranga.
Newshub reported the owners are Exclusive Brethrens. The religious group controversially spent more than $1 million trying to get National elected in 2005.
Asked on Monday morning (before the Ross announcement) to comment on the donations matter, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said: "To use Napoleon's famous phrase, 'Never interfere with an enemy who's in the process of destroying himself'."
Here is a statement from Bridges:
Earlier today I received the independent report from PwC on their investigation into the recent leak of the National Party’s travel expenses.
The report states that the evidence identified points to Jami Lee Ross as being the person who sent the anonymous text message.
I am releasing the report today.
John Billington QC has independently assessed the investigation report. It is his opinion that on the balance of probabilities the evidence establishes that Jami-Lee Ross was the person who leaked the expenses and the sender of the text message.
I accept both the investigation report and the opinion of Mr Billington.
Earlier today I visited Jami-Lee Ross with Paula Bennett and explained to him the report and the opinion of Mr Billington and gave him an opportunity to respond. I was not satisfied with his explanation.
I also discussed with Jami-Lee other matters concerning his conduct that have come to my attention and suggest, together with the leak, a pattern.
I informed Jami-Lee that tomorrow the investigation report and Mr Billington’s opinion will be presented at a meeting of the National Party Caucus along with the other matters.
The Caucus will be asked to consider all relevant matters, including his membership of the Caucus.
Finally, you will recall Jami-Lee recently took leave from Parliament given personal health issues.
This action today is completely separate. I did not know what the investigation report would contain when those matters were addressed in recent weeks.
Today I have taken steps to ensure that Jami-Lee has the necessary support around him at this time.
The step that I have taken today is not made lightly. I am balancing the health issues with the considerable public interest in the outcome of the investigation.
Here are copies of Ross' tweets:
Later today Simon Bridges is going to attempt to pin his leak inquiry on me. He can not find who the actual leak is, so is attempting to use contact with my local Police area commander, and a journalist that is a friend (not Tova), as evidence that I am somehow involved.— Jami-Lee Ross (@jamileeross) October 14, 2018
I have said they are unrelated - he does not wish to believe that.— Jami-Lee Ross (@jamileeross) October 14, 2018
Some months ago I fell out with Simon. I have internally been questioning leadership decisions he was making, and his personal poll ratings which show he is becoming more and more unlikable in the public’s eyes.
When I started to become expendable, I confronted him with evidence that I had recorded him discussing with me unlawful activity that he was involved in. Working on his instruction, he asked me to do things with election donations that broke the law.— Jami-Lee Ross (@jamileeross) October 14, 2018
This evidence led Simon to push me out on medical leave a few weeks ago. It was essentially an attempt to stop me from speaking publicly.— Jami-Lee Ross (@jamileeross) October 14, 2018
I now have a duty to speak publicly on these matters. I will do so in coming days.