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National's leader Simon Bridges has profusely apologised to Maureen Pugh, a list MP he called "f***ing useless", saying this has been a "big and hard lesson" for him.
Bridges fronted media at Parliament late this afternoon after former National MP Jami-Lee Ross earlier in the day released a recorded conversation the pair had in June where they discuss a $100,000 donation.
Ross resigned from the party yesterday as National was voting to expel him from caucus. The release of the recording comes after Ross had a two-hour meeting with police today and laid his complaint about what he says was a "corrupt practice" regarding electoral donations.
However, Bridges told media today he believed his leadership was "absolutely safe".
"He has defamed me and he is a liar," Bridges said of the Botany MP. "The reality is I believe Jami-Lee Ross has been secretly taping me for many, many months. That's a monumental breach of trust."
Bridges told media today he listened back to the tape and does not believe it supports Ross' claims.
"I am glad he [Ross] is no longer part of our caucus."
Bridges said he wanted to have the facts straight, before speaking to media yesterday.
"I am a lawyer - I am a cautious person who takes things seriously. This was a serious allegation. I wanted to make sure I had done my due diligence.
"Jami-Lee Ross is a person who lies and leaks and, in this conversation - he deliberately tried to set me up."
In the recording, Bridges and Ross speak about potential Chinese candidates that had been mentioned at their dinner with businessman Zhang Yikun.
When asked about the conversation the two of them had about race, Bridges said he stood by National's effort to have a mix of ethnicities on its list, but he said it was discussed in a blunt manner.
"I am proud National is a party that values multiculturalism."
He said he didn't need to apologise to the Chinese community. "I think New Zealanders would understand what I was trying to say."
Bridges believed Ross could have been recording other MPs for a long time.
"He has defamed me and he has lied - nothing in what he has said stacks up."
But Bridges said he probably won't take legal action. "It's probably not worth the time and the effort."
He described Ross' police complaint as "bogus, stupid and vexatious" and was not worried about the police investigation at all. "He's a terrible person," Bridges said.
"I obviously didn't mind my Ps and Qs," Bridges said, in relation to the tape, but believed his leadership was "absolutely safe."
"I something of a rough diamond sometimes. I'm not perfect."
LIST MPS DISCUSSED
The recording of Bridges reveals that the National Party leader thinks list MP Maureen Pugh is "f***ing useless" - but it is questionable whether it has any solid evidence of electoral fraud.
In discussing getting some list MPs to make way for some new ones, Bridges says: "I reckon it's all three of our MPs who ... not thinking of obvious ones like [Chris] Finlayson or [David] Carter, but actually we just want them to go. Like Maureen Pugh's f***ing useless."
In the recording, Ross responds by adding National MP Nicky Wagner's name to the list of MPs who may not be wanted.
Bridges responds that he doesn't want them all to go "this year".
The conversation was around how it would be to have the two Chinese people Bridges dined with and who are allegedly behind the donation - Yikun Zhang and Colin Zheng - on the National Party list.
Colin Zheng is the manager of KCC Construction, a company owned by Zhang Yikun.
Bridges said having two Chinese MPs would be "nice", but putting them on the list and keeping everyone happy would be "bloody hard".
"Depends where we're polling ... that sort of thing. Two Chinese would be nice but would it be one Chinese and one Filipino. What do we do?"
Ross replies that two Chinese would be better than two Indians.
Bridges agrees, but says that adding two Chinese would create a "sh*t fight" with sitting MPs. He then talks about cutting some list MPs to make way for new ones, and makes the comment about Finlayson, Carter and Pugh.
Ross says at one point that the donation money has "no strings attached", in spite of the discussion about getting two Chinese MPs.
Ross says that Zheng had enrolled in National's Candidates College.
In the rest of the audio, Bridges says little to suggest that he knowingly filed a false electoral donation.
Bridges acknowledges the dinner he had with Zhang and Zheng, and says "fantastic" when told the $100,000 donation was now sitting in a Botany electorate account.
He says the money could be used for "advertisements and the like".
Ross replies that he doesn't know what Bridges had arranged for the donation with party president Peter Goodfellow, but it needed to be filed as a party donation to remain under the disclosure requirements.
"I don't think we can raise tens of thousands and completely keep him out of the loop. Maybe if you're just honest with him about it," Ross says.
Bridges agrees: "I'll raise it with him [Goodfellow], but we should probably just think it through. It can be in the party, but I just want to make sure we've got that money to do those sorts of things. Don't you think?"
Ross says that party donations should be processed by the party's general manager Greg Hamilton.
"I think he'll accept it, I just need to explain to him what I want it for," Bridges replies. "Leave it with me. I might talk to [National MP Todd] McClay as well, see what he's got up his sleeve."
ROSS LAYS COMPLAINT WITH POLICE
The release of the tape comes after Ross had a two-hour meeting with police today and laid his complaint about what he says was a "corrupt practice" regarding electoral donations.
The ousted MP said he played police this recording he had with Bridges, which Ross says makes it clear that Bridges wanted the person behind the $100,000 donation to be kept secret.
He said he felt "uncomfortable" to be asked to collect the $100,000 donation. so when he called him on June 25, "I felt there was some danger here" and he decided to record the conversation.
Ross then uploaded the audio file to Twitter.
Police confirmed they received a complaint at Wellington Central police station regarding the disclosure of political donations today and a Detective Senior Sergeant at Police National Headquarters would look into the matter to determine what further steps may be required from police.
"Police take any complaint regarding alleged Electoral Act offences seriously," a spokesperson said.
"Decisions regarding the outcome of such investigations are made based on the facts and available evidence, and in accordance with the Solicitor General's prosecution guidelines."
Ross earlier said the meeting was with three detective senior sergeants, but gave no indication of how long the investigation might take.
Ross said he had further recordings of Bridges about the allegations of harassment, which Ross denies.
"I had harassment allegations that supposedly existed around four women. I'm very clear on my recollection. I have further recordings of Simon Bridges and I in his office. I'm confident in what I said yesterday."
He maintained that he didn't have a chance to answer those allegations.
"When I'm accused of being a liar by the National Party and Simon Bridges, I have evidence, text messages and recordings that say I'm not a liar."
Ross turned up for his appointment at Wellington Central police station just before 1pm today. Ross said he would hand the recording to police, as well as photos and text messages with party general secretary Greg Hamilton.
"On the phone, it was very explicit that he [Bridges] wanted me to ensure that whatever could be done, that it wasn't made public," Ross told media on his way to the meeting.
"I was asked to do some things with that donation that I want to talk to police about."
The National Party has said it had found no evidence of illegal donations, and supported Ross going to police.
Ross has previously said that the donation was split into smaller chunks so the donor would not have to be declared. Donors of under $15,000 to a party or $1500 to a candidate do not have to be declared publicly.
National deputy leader Paula Bennett has questioned the donation, and whether it was Ross himself who may have acted illegally.
"It sounds like he's taken a donation and I'm not sure what he's done with it. He knows electoral law very well. He is used to fundraising and getting big money," she told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking.
Earlier today, Massey Law Professor Chris Gallivan told Newstalk ZB that a party or candidate could not hide a large donation merely by splitting it up into smaller amounts.
"For the purposes of the return, you've got to add all those up and say, 'This is the total amount that's come from this person'."
Gallivan suggested that Ross or Bridges may have committed an offence by knowingly taking part.
"Even if, on the face of it, it actually is a donation that came to Ross, as opposed to Bridges, one could say there was aiding or abetting or procuring."
He said it was a corrupt practice to intentionally file a false return, which would lead to an MP being ejected from Parliament.
Ross said yesterday he would lay a formal complaint with police over a $100,000 donation from businessman Yikun Zhang, which Ross claims was knowingly split into smaller sums and filed under different names to hide where it came from.
He said he would offer police photos, a taped conversation with Bridges and text messages with Greg Hamilton.
The National Party caucus voted unanimously to expel Ross yesterday, but Ross had already announced he was quitting the party and would stand down as the MP for Botany on Friday.
He intends to stand in a subsequent byelection as an independent candidate.