NSW Labor secretary Kaila Murnain has told an anti-corruption hearing that Labor MP Ernest Wong told her that a banned donor, Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo, had donated to the Labor Party in 2016.
In sensational evidence to ICAC, Ms Murnain said she met a “distressed” Mr Wong at the back of the NSW Parliament, where he made the shocking disclosure of an illegal donation.
“He called me. He said he wanted to see me in person,” Ms Murnain told ICAC.
Ms Murnain said she remembers being shocked by the revelations and swore.
” ‘What the s–t?’ – I remember saying that,” she said.
“I do remember stepping back and realising what all this meant.”
Ms Murnain said she could not be sure Mr Wong mentioned $100,000 specifically but she knew such a donation had been made from a fund-raising dinner with the Chinese community the previous year.
Ms Murnain said she does not remember ever sighting an Aldi bag of cash stuffed with $100,000 at Labor Party headquarters.
Ms Murnain was giving evidence on Wednesday at ICAC hearings investigating allegations that the ALP accepted a donation from Mr Huang, and that there was an elaborate conspiracy to conceal the truth of his identity.
Her evidence directly contradicts the sworn testimony of another Labor official, Kenrick Cheah, who told the Independent Commission Against Corruption earlier this week that Ms Murnain saw the bag and told him to “be careful” when he took it home.
Ms Murnain commenced her evidence shortly after 2pm on Wednesday, detailing her knowledge of the events surrounding a 2015 Chinese Friends of Labor dinner attended by former Labor leader Bill Shorten.
She was repeatedly unable to recall whether she saw the cash or when she learned that a $100,000 donation was received.
However, she accepted that she learned a large sum of money had come into the office at some point.
“The truth is I actually don’t remember,” she said.
She accepted that the size of such a donation was “out of the ordinary”.
“All I remember was being told there was a large sum of money,” she said.
Mr Cheah gave evidence that Ms Murnain saw him counting the money from the Chinese Friends of Labor dinner.
But Ms Murnain said she has no recollection of this.
“I just don’t remember that. I don’t remember the counting taking place,” she said.
ICAC has heard evidence that the bag was allegedly dropped off by Mr Huang.
Ms Murnain said that in 2015 she did not know what Mr Huang looked like, even if he had visited Sussex Street.
“The truth is I wouldn’t be able to recognise Mr Huang even if he walked into the office,” she said.
“I wouldn’t have known what he looked like.”
Ms Murnain repeatedly said she did not recall seeing the Aldi bag.
“I don’t remember people with the Aldi bag,” she said.
Asked if she had any memory of Mr Cheah with a plastic bag of cash, she told ICAC this was not unusual.
“He would frequently bring in bags of money from fundraisers,” she said.
Earlier, the inquiry heard a man who the Labor Party claimed had donated $5000 at the dinner reveal he was forced to lie about donating the cash and never attended the event.
Describing himself as “a small potato”, retiree Steve Tong told ICAC that he had “no choice” but to lie because he feared his powerful employers would “take their revenge” if he did not follow orders.
The stunning allegations emerged at an anti-corruption hearing in Sydney that is probing allegations that Mr Huang was the real benefactor.
Speaking with the aid of a Cantonese interpreter, Mr Tong insisted he had “no choice” but to follow the orders of his employers, Wu International, another property development company, when he lied on disclosure forms to the electoral commission about the $5000 donation.
“I had already told a lie so I had to follow through with it,” he said.
“I was telling lies to the electoral commission. The company told me that if anything happened the company would take care of me.”
When Mr Tong was asked what he was worried about, he said he was concerned about his employment.
“Honestly? About losing my job. I was worried that they would take their revenge on me; hire some scoundrel,” Mr Tong said.
Mr Tong said the threat was implied and his employers did not say they would “hit you”.
Mr Huang, who has since had his Australian visa cancelled amid security fears because of his links with China, was a banned donor under NSW laws because he is a property developer.
On Monday, counsel assisting the commission Scott Robertson also revealed that another alleged donor and Wu International employee, Dr Quanbao “Leo” Liao, committed suicide on the weekend before he was scheduled to give compulsory evidence to the ICAC.
The form Mr Tong signed listed him as a “major political donor” who had donated $5000 in his name at the 2015 dinner.
“But I had no choice,” he said.
“Dr Liao told me what to write and how to write,” Mr Tong said.
He also said that Mr Wong, who helped to run the Chinese Friends of Labor, was close to his employers.
“He is very close with Wu International,” Mr Tong said.
“Of course, with the boss, not with small potatoes like myself.”