Southland mayor has ties with Zhang

Gary Tong
Gary Tong
The Chinese businessman who Jami-Lee Ross alleges provided a donation of $100,000 to Simon Bridges has been approached by the Southland district mayor as a potential business adviser.

It has also emerged Yikun Zhang has an ongoing professional relationship and friendship with Mayor Gary Tong, who gave Mr Zhang two fresh legs of lamb and four live crayfish, and also received a sponsored trip to China last year.

Four Southland district councillors said they had never heard of Mr Zhang before yesterday.

In a letter to Mr Zhang and another person earlier this year, released under the Official Information Act, Mr Tong said he welcomed Mr Zhang as an informal business adviser.

''As the proud Mayor of Southland, I welcome your contribution to the future of Southland as a business advisor which at this time is in an informal arrangement. I believe there is an opportunity to develop this further,'' Mr Tong wrote.

''I look forward to collaborating alongside you both as overseas companies and investors look at investing in Southland.''

The information released also revealed Mr Tong received a sponsored trip to China for ''the mayor and his partner to attend business and local government introductions in Beijing and Guangzhou''.

In return, Mr Tong presented Mr Zhang with two legs of fresh lamb from his lifestyle block, and four live crayfish from a fishing trip, and also hosted Mr Zhang and another person in Southland.

Speaking yesterday afternoon, Mr Tong said no money had changed hands between Mr Zhang and the Southland District Council.

Mr Zhang had been approached as a business adviser, but had not yet offered any advice, Mr Tong said.

''There's a letter saying that we would look at him for any business advice for the future ... but that hasn't occurred as yet.

''We're still making those relationships, would be the easiest way to put it.''

Mr Tong said he had been in contact with Mr Zhang yesterday, through the businessman's advisers.

''He's got minimal English, so I have been speaking to his people.''

The mayor said Mr Zhang still had his full confidence and support.

''I've got the greatest respect for Mr Zhang.

''Jami-Lee Ross is in a hole at the moment, and I guess he's thrown a few hand grenades out there.''

The Otago Daily Times attempted to contact all Southland district councillors yesterday afternoon.

Four could be reached: Julie Keast, of the Waihopai Toetoes Ward, George Harpur, of the Waiau Aparima Ward, Stuart Baird, also of the Waiau Aparima Ward, and Darren Frazer, of the Winton Wallacetown Ward.

None said they had heard the name Yikun Zhang before yesterday, and they were unaware of his relationship with the mayor.

george.block@odt.co.nz

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