Billionaire Chinese-Australian Chau Chak Wing has been awarded $590,000 in damages after winning a defamation suit against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and commercial network Nine.
Chau sued the media companies over a joint investigation called “Power and Influence” that aired on ABC’s Four Corners in June 2017.
Chau’s lawyers alleged that “Power and Influence” carried six defamatory “imputations” that were “serious, false and defamatory” centring around how Chau betrayed Australia to serve the interests of a foreign power, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Other imputations alleged that Chau was a member of the CCP and its secret overseas influence body the United Front Work Department; that he donated enormous sums of money to political parties to influence their decisions on behalf of Beijing; paid Sheri Yan, an alleged agent of the CCP, to help him infiltrate the Australian government; and paid a $200,000 bribe to the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, John Ashe.
Justice Steve Rares upheld four of the imputations calling them “false, seriously defamatory and otherwise indefensible.” He ordered the media companies to pay damages and prevented further publication of “Power and Influence.”
Rares also said some imputations were damaging to Chau’s business reputation, according to his judgement on Tuesday.
Both ABC and Nine were ordered to pay the costs of the action.
In response to the decision, ABC and Nine issued a joint statement saying, “The ABC and Nine are deeply disappointed by today’s judgment by Justice Rares in the Federal Court and believe it will have a further chilling effect on media freedom in this country.”
“The reporting resulted in an important national discussion about the issue of foreign interference in Australia and led to the landmark Foreign Interference and Espionage laws being introduced in 2018,” it continued.
“Media organisations have long argued Australia’s defamation laws require reform. Their affirmation in this case will have an immediate and significant impact on media freedom.”
The case follows a ruling last year where Chau was awarded $280,000 in damages for defamation over a 2015 Fairfax Media (now Nine) online article. Fairfax appealed, but failed to have the ruling overturned, instead the damages were adjusted to $247,672.
In 2016, Chau won a defamation suit against Nationwide News and News Life Media for an article titled, “Billionaire developer embroiled in scandal.”