A former NSW Labor MP and solicitor has told an anti-corruption inquiry he didn’t know he could be breaking the law when he diverted money from a Labor fundraiser to a bank account to which he was a signatory.
Ernest Wong on Tuesday was asked if the truth was “too awful” for him to admit when questioned over the transfer to the Friends of Chinese Community bank account.
Wong didn’t accept Labor lawyer Arthur Moses SC’s suggestion that he breached electoral funding laws by not disclosing the money as coming from a state election fundraiser.
“Is that because you won’t admit that you broke the law?” Moses asked during an Independent Commission Against Corruption hearing.
Wong replied: “Not that I have any knowledge that I’m breaking the law as such.”
The former Labor MP told ICAC the A$12,200 which was diverted would go to other events and expenses which weren’t funded by head office.
ICAC is examining whether Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo—now banned from Australia—was the true source of $100,000 said to be donated by 12 people from a 2015 Chinese Friends of Labor fundraising dinner.
Wong, who was the CFL’s patron, told the commission Huang volunteered to deliver a bag of cash raised at the event to Labor’s head office.
Huang, as a property developer, was prohibited by law from making donations to NSW political parties.
Wong denied he sold the head table at the CFL fundraiser to Huang for A$100,000 and sought to cover up the contribution with fake donors.
Counsel assisting the inquiry Scott Robertson suggested Wong had “constructed a story” to match the evidence he thought the commission had.
“In doing so, you’ve given false and misleading evidence to this commission. Do you accept that?” Robertson asked.
“No. Because we’re talking about a whole year since the last hearing that I’ve been able to sit down and try to refresh my memories,” Wong replied.
He agreed that in a 2018 examination he said nothing about a meeting with one of the purported 12 donors at his parliament office, or a 2016 meeting with NSW Labor’s then-general secretary Kaila Murnain.
Robertson noted Wong hadn’t previously provided details that he had received two bags at the end of the fundraiser—one with cash and the other with forms and spreadsheets.
“The most you did is speculated in the most general of terms that Huang may have had something to do with the event on that evening and may have had something to do with the cash, correct?” Robertson asked.
“Yes,” Wong replied.
Wong, under cross-examination by Murnain’s lawyer Ian Neil SC, said he didn’t recall being set fundraising targets by then-general secretary Jamie Clements in 2015.
Neil suggested the general secretary set those targets for Wong to raise money to help finance the campaign of former leadership contender Chris Minns.
The chief commissioner at one point put it to Wong that his evidence regarding a meeting with Murnain in September 2016 was “a sham”—something Wong again denied.
The inquiry continues.
By Jodie Stephens