Two and a half years ago, Australian Parliament members accepted Rolex watches from Chinese instant noodle tycoon Li Ruipeng during an informal dinner at Parliament Hill in Canberra.
The MPs in question—former prime minister Tony Abbott, Stuart Robert, and Ian Macfarlane—say they assumed the watches were counterfeits of the Swiss luxury brand. According to The Guardian, Macfarlane only discovered their true value when he recently had his own watch appraised and discovered it was worth $40,000.
The watches were originally declared to be worth several hundred dollars each. According to The Guardian, Macfarlane believed his Rolex to be a fake, but still “wore it occasionally.”
Making the incident more sensitive is the fact that MP Stuart Robert, who formerly served as assistant defense minister, is currently being investigated to determine whether he breached the ministerial code of conduct by taking a 2014 “personal” trip to China, in which he finalized a mining deal.
Robert “should have learned from the watches to tread warily in China,” Phillip Coorey wrote in the Australian Financial Review.
The Guardian piece received over 500 comments, many of them suspicious of the three MPs’ claims. The more articulate of their number said that Chinese billionaires would not have sacrificed face to make gifts of fake watches, a fact the Australians would have been well aware of.
Others doubted that the Rolexes were not known to be genuine and speculated that the MPs wished to exonerate themselves in light of Stuart’s controversial China trip.