18 Oct 2018

Who is Zhang Yikun, the alleged donor of $100,000 to National?

From Checkpoint, 6:08 pm on 18 October 2018

The Chinese businessman who has become a household name after being named as a National Party donor has been described as generous and public-spirited.  

Eric Roy.

Former Invercargill MP Eric Roy was one of three people who nominated Mr Zhang for the Order of Merit. Photo: NATIONAL PARTY

This week the Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross identified Zhang Yikun as the man behind a $100,000 donation to the National Party, and today Mr Ross filed a police complaint on leader Simon Bridges.

Mr Zhang is a successful Auckland businessman who came to New Zealand in 2000 with his wife. 

He owns multiple companies involved in land development, construction and real estate, and is well known in New Zealand Chinese and government circles. 

Former Invercargill MP Eric Roy was one of three people who nominated Mr Zhang for the Order of Merit, an honour he received this year. 

Mr Roy is an advisor for the Auckland-based Chao Shan General Association that Mr Zhang founded, and he considers him a friend.

The Auckland-based association's stated aim is to promote co-operation between China and New Zealand. 

"We were looking to give him a bit more recognition and just establish a bit more profile for him and certainly his work done with the Chinese and Asian community in Auckland has merited it in my view," Mr Roy said.

"So I did that as an advisor to the Chao Shan group I had not other reason other than that connection."

And though a former National Party MP, Mr Roy said he never discussed politics with Mr Zhang, nor did they discuss donating money to political parties.  

Mr Zhang's reputed generosity has not been confined to one party - he has also rubbed shoulders with Jacinda Ardern, Phil Goff and Wally Haumaha. 

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said he has met Mr Zhang many times, including attending an event at his house, and Mr Zhang supported his 2016 mayoral campaign. 

"My experience with him is that he's quite a well-respected member of the Chinese community," said Mr Goff.

Mr Zhang was currently on a trip to China with the Mayor of Southland, Gary Tong, who said the aim was to establish relationships that could lead to business gains for the South. 

"Mr Zhang was aware of the Southland Regional Development Strategy where we are looking to increase numbers, population, in Southland as well as boost our economy some way," Mr Tong said from China.

"Mr Zhang is a very people focused leader and he could see that there could be a possible relationship with Southland and we have progressed from there."

An Official Information Act release described Mr Zhang's relationship with Mr Tong as an official advisor.

Mr Tong said he met Mr Zhang about two years ago at a meeting in Invercargill, and says he is a friend and respected businessman who supports the communities he lives in both in New Zealand and China.

"I've given him advice in regards to one question he had to aquaculture and that is the only advice we have had, there have been no promises or deals or the like."

University of Canterbury professor and China expert, Anne-Marie Brady, has flagged questions about Mr Zhang's connections to the Chinese government. 

She said the most concerning aspect of the controversy over National's hidden donations was Mr Zhang's involvement with the Chinese Communist Party. 

But another China expert, Stephen Noakes from Auckland University, said joining the party was the way to get ahead in business. 

"The personal connections and relationships provide the motivation for you to join. It's very much like LinkedIn, it's a thing you do for the connections. 

"It does not mean that everybody who joins the CP is out to destroy institutions of liberal democracy or to spy on trade partners around the world," Dr Noakes said.

Mr Zhang could not be reached for comment. He is due back in the country next week.