The state’s corruption watchdog is investigating whether now-banned Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo was the true source of $100,000 cash donated to NSW Labor in 2015.
Huang is said to have handed that amount of money to NSW Labor’s then-general secretary Jamie Clements at the party’s head office a few weeks after a March 2015 Chinese Friends of Labor dinner, the Independent Commission against Corruption heard on Monday.
Huang, who has since had his visa cancelled, was a director and chairman of a property development company and therefore prohibited from making donations to NSW political parties, counsel assisting the inquiry Scott Robertson said during his opening address.
“Mr Huang is, however, known to have been a significant donor to both the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal Party of Australia, at least on the federal level,” Robertson said.
The billionaire shared a table at the Chinese Friends of Labor function with then federal and state Labor leaders Bill Shorten and Luke Foley—though there’s no suggestion they had any involvement in the conduct being investigated.
ICAC is holding six weeks of hearings in Sydney into whether ALP branch officials in NSW, members of Chinese Friends of Labor, political donors and others “entered into, or carried out, a scheme to circumvent prohibitions or requirements” under political donation laws.
It will investigate whether steps were taken to conceal the true source of the money said to have been received in connection with the Chinese Friends of Labor event in 2015.
Labor has disclosed they received a total $138,930 in revenue from the pre-election dinner, Robertson said.
Of that, $100,000 cash was recorded as being received from 12 donors, most of whom gave $5000 to NSW Labor and another $5000 to Country Labor in circumstances where the cap on political donations at the time was $5700.
Most of the disclosed donors were associated with Chinese Friends of Labor convenor Jonathan Yee, who’s the general manager of the Emperor’s Garden restaurants in Chinatown, the inquiry heard.
Five were employees or former employees of Emperor’s Garden, two were Yee’s family members, one was Emperor’s Garden Pty Ltd and the other was Yee himself.
“These associations, along with the implausibility that restaurant workers would have the financial capacity to make lump sum donations of $5000 or $10,000 as well as other factors, led the Electoral Commission to suspect that the $100,000 in cash was donated on behalf of a person or persons other than those who appeared in NSW Labor and Country Labor’s disclosures,” Robertson said.
Another two donations were disclosed as being from people associated with property development company Wu International, despite property developers being prohibited donors under NSW law.
The inquiry will hear from members and officers of NSW Labor and Chinese Friends of Labor and nine of 10 donors.
The tenth, Quanbao Liao, a deputy general manager of Wu International, was due to give evidence in a compulsory examination in June 2018 but took his own life the previous weekend, the inquiry heard.
“There is evidence suggesting that Liao’s decision to take his own life was connected with the conduct that the commission is investigating,” Robertson said.
The inquiry continues.