The first person to be charged under Australia’s ground-breaking foreign interference laws is in court defending allegations he was “preparing for a foreign interference offence.”
Duong Di Sanh, a Melbourne-based Asian community leader, appeared in the local Magistrates Court on May 17 following a year-long investigation by the Australian Federal Police and the domestic spy agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.
The court was presented with several tapped phone conversations—authorised by the federal attorney-general—involving Duong, one such call involved the Asian community leader and the office of then-federal education minister, Alan Tudge.
Duong, who was also a Liberal Party member at the time, spoke to a staffer at the office in March 2020, where he offered to procure COVID-19 testing kits from Hong Kong and donate them to Tudge.
In further conversations Duong was asked whether he would like to take his offer to other federal members of Parliament Greg Hunt—the federal health minister—and Gladys Liu, the member for Chisholm the donation.
Eventually, it was agreed that Duong could make a monetary donation to the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
At a “very public ceremony” Tudge and Duong appeared together, with the minister receiving a novelty cheque with the figure $37, 450 written on it—the image has been circulated on social media.
An officer from the Australian Federal Police told the court that Duong was using the donation as a “vehicle to ingratiate himself with [Tudge].”
Tudge’s office had made inquiries with law enforcement and the attorney general’s office over potential national security concerns involving Duong but was told there were no problems.
The officer, who cannot be named, revealed that Duong had travelled to China while he was a member of “certain groups that were aligned” with the Chinese Community Party’s United Front Work Department—Beijing’s foremost foreign influence body.
Duong currently remains on bail as the trial continues until May 19.
Zheng, a property developer, is alleged to have provided information to Chinese intelligence agencies on the U.S.-based billionaire-in-exile Guo Wengui.