A corruption hearing in Sydney has opened with sensational claims that a banned political donor Huang Xiangmo personally dropped off an envelope containing $100,000 in cash to the Labor Party’s NSW headquarters and that another man killed himself when asked to give evidence.
Counsel assisting the Independent Commission Against Corruption Scott Robertson revealed the inquiry would probe whether the Chinese billionaire was disguising his donations to the ALP.
In news that shocked the public hearing on Monday, he said another Sydney man involved in the scheme, Leo Liau, had taken his own life after he was contacted by investigators and left a suicide note detailing his involvement.
“Tragically, Mr Liao is understood to have taken his own life on the weekend prior to that scheduled appearance,” Mr Robertson said.
Mr Liao left suicide notes to his wife detailing his terror at being interviewed by ICAC investigators.
“They told me not to discuss it with any family member, in reality I have also chosen not to tell you either, to prevent you having to worry about,” the note said.
“I have decided to leave this world, which is also my last hardest attempt to prevent you and our daughter from becoming family members of a criminal, this is because I am still innocent at the time I wrote this letter.”
NSW Labor secretary Kaila Murnain will also be called to give evidence. Mr Robertson indicated she had told ICAC that she had learned of the true nature of the donations during her time as assistant secretary, from former NSW Labor MP Ernest Wong.
Mr Robertson told the inquiry that the hearings would examine whether a series of $5000 donations at a Chinese Friends of Labor dinner attended by Bill Shorten in 2015 were a “front” for donations for Mr Huang.
There is no suggestion that Mr Shorten or the former NSW Labor leader Luke Foley, who also attended the dinner, had any knowledge of what unfolded subsequently in relation to the donations.
Labor officials had given evidence to ICAC about Mr Huang’s cash donations to the ALP.
Mr Robertson said the NSW ALP’s community relations director Kenrick Cheah had told ICAC that Mr Huang personally handed over the cash.
“Mr Cheah stated that Mr Huang attended NSW head office a few weeks after the Chinese Friends of Labor dinner in 2015 and gave the then NSW Labor secretary Jamie Clements $100,000 in cash,” Mr Robertson said.
“Mr Cheah stated that after his meeting with Mr Huang, Mr Clements handed $100,000 in cash to Mr Cheah.”
Property developers are prohibited from donating under NSW law. Accepting a donation from a banned donor is a jailable offence.
However, NSW Labor did not declare that Mr Huang was the source of the cash, instead claiming it was from the Emperor’s Garden restaurant’s Jonathan Yee, his staff and family.
The inquiry heard it was highly unlikely the restaurant staff had the cash to donate $5000 to the ALP.
“The 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,” Mr Robertson said.
Mr Huang is effectively banned from re-entering Australia after the Morrison government rejected his bid for citizenship and revoked his permanent residency.
He lives in Hong Kong, where his close connections with the Chinese Communist Party have prompted concerns from Australia’s intelligence agency, ASIO.
Mr Huang’s entanglements with another former NSW ALP secretary, Sam Dastyari, led the then senator to quit politics after it was revealed he might have tipped the Chinese donor off to the possibility he was under ASIO surveillance.
Mr Dastyari has also been called to give evidence and took to social media on Monday to say he was looking forward to providing the facts of the matter.
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