Australia’s opposition Labor party has become embroiled in a controversy over claims it attempted to conceal a A$100,000 donation from Huang Xiangmo, a billionaire who was been barred from the country over his alleged links to Beijing.
The disclosure at a corruption inquiry on Monday is the latest in a series of high-profile cases involving donations by Chinese billionaires to political parties in Australia — a trend that has caused alarm within security circles and prompted the government to pass a package of new laws to curb foreign influence last year.
The inquiry heard on Monday that Mr Huang, a property developer, delivered a shopping bag stuffed with A$100,000 (US$68,000) in cash to the New South Wales Labor party’s headquarters shortly after a fundraising dinner in 2015. The party later reported the donation was from numerous separate donors, including several employees of a Chinese restaurant where the dinner was held.
But the Independent Commission Against Corruption of New South Wales is investigating whether the party deliberately concealed the true identity of the donor to circumvent political donation laws which bar developers from donating to politics. And in a tragic twist on the opening day of public hearings, the inquiry heard how one of the potential witnesses had committed suicide on the weekend before he was due to give evidence.
In an apparent suicide note, Leo Liao, deputy general manager of Wu International, a property developer, told his family: “The real situation was that I was involved in a political donation . . . You know that all my life I’ve been eager to excel, preserve my reputation, or maybe it was because of integrity that I chose to take my own life.”
In 2016, Mr Huang was at the centre of a previous scandal involving Sam Dastyari, a Labor party MP who accepted thousands of dollars in donations from Mr Huang’s Yuhu Group, after it emerged the former lawmaker had called for Australia to respect China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea — a position contrary to that of his party.
Mr Dastyari subsequently resigned following a political storm. In February the Australian government cancelled Mr Huang’s permanent residency visa in a move that reflected Canberra’s increasing concern around Beijing’s attempts to influence domestic politics — in effect stranding the property developer in Hong Kong.
Mr Huang made his fortune in property development in China, before moving to Australia in 2011. Since then he has given more than A$1m in donations to the Liberal and Labor parties, either directly, or in payments made by family members, his company or Yuhu staff.
He is a former president of the Australian Council for the Peaceful Reunification of China — a group with links to China’s Communist party. Mr Huang has previously told the Financial Times that media claims that he had strong links to the Chinese Communist party were “mischievous and grossly exaggerated”.
A NSW Labor spokesperson said: “The NSW ALP is doing everything it can to assist the commission with its inquiries. If any breaches of the law by party officers emerge, these are not condoned by the ALP and appropriate action will be taken. We are committed to doing the right thing and to support necessary regulatory change to ensure the integrity of our political system.”
Yuhu Group Australia did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Mr Huang.
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