Southland mayor's link to National's '$100k donor'

Zhang Yikun with Governor-General of New Zealand Patsy Reddy after receiving an Order of Merit...
Zhang Yikun with Governor-General of New Zealand Patsy Reddy after receiving an Order of Merit for services to New Zealand-China relations and the Chinese community. Photo: Government House
The Chinese businessman who MP Jami-Lee Ross alleges provided donations of $100,000 to National leader Simon Bridges has been approached by the Southland District Mayor as a potential business adviser.

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

At least one other district councillor says she had never heard of Mr Zhang before today.

In a letter to Mr Zhang earlier this year, released under the Offical Information Act (OIA), 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 that 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 10-acre block, and four live crayfish from a fishing trip.

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

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 today, via 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."

Cr Julie Keast, of the Waihopai Toetoes Ward, said, when contacted, she had not heard the name Yikun Zhang before today and was unaware of his relationship with the mayor. 

Mr Ross has stressed that he did not think Mr Zhang had done anything wrong.

He alleged Mr Bridges was involved in splitting the donation into smaller amounts to "hide it".

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