NSW Labor boss Kaila Murnain warned an officer leaving the party’s head office in Sydney with $100,000 cash, delivered by a Chinese billionaire, to “be careful”, the state’s anti-corruption watchdog has heard.
Billionaire Huang Xiangmo allegedly handed the money to NSW Labor’s then-general secretary Jamie Clements a few weeks after a March 2015 Chinese Friends of Labor dinner, the Independent Commission against Corruption has been told.
On Tuesday, NSW Labor’s community relations director Kenrick Cheah told the hearing he was “pretty sure” Ms Murnain – NSW Labor’s current general secretary, who was the assistant general secretary at the time – told him to “be careful in terms of personal safety” when taking the cash home for the night.
“I don’t know if she knew how much was there, but she knew that there was a sizeable amount of money that I was taking home to keep safe to bring back the next day,” Mr Cheah said.
On Monday, Mr Cheah told the inquiry he was in the office when the billionaire allegedly arrived with an Aldi bag stuffed with cash and donation forms.
He then counted the money in the open-plan office before taking it home overnight because it was “riskier” to leave it at work.
Mr Huang was a director and chairman of a property development company and therefore prohibited under electoral laws from making donations to NSW political parties.
The pre-election CFL dinner is at the centre of the ICAC inquiry, which is investigating whether steps were taken to conceal the true source of money said to have been raised at the event.
Labor disclosed it received $138,930 in revenue from the dinner.
Of that, $100,000 in cash was recorded as being received from 12 donors, most of whom gave $5000 to NSW Labor and another $5000 to Country Labor. The cap on political donations at the time was $5700.
The anti-corruption watchdog is investigating whether Mr Huang – who has since had his Australian visa cancelled – was the real source of the $100,000 donation.
The billionaire is known to have been a “significant” donor to both the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal Party of Australia at the federal level.
Mr Huang shared a table at the Chinese Friends of Labor function with then federal and state Labor leaders Bill Shorten and Luke Foley – although there is no suggestion they had any involvement in the conduct being investigated.
When asked why Mr Huang was seated on one of the main tables, Mr Cheah on Tuesday said it might have been to avoid causing offence to a “rich and powerful guy”.
“I don’t know if there’s anyone richer or more powerful than him at that time,” he said.
ICAC is holding six weeks of hearings 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.
The inquiry will hear from members and officers of NSW Labor and Chinese Friends of Labor and nine of 10 donors.
Ms Murnain is due to give evidence on Wednesday, as is former federal Labor senator Sam Dastyari.