World News

Charge That Tycoon Bribed U.N. Official Fuels Fear of Chinese Meddling

Posted May 22, 2018 7:30 p.m. EDT

A billionaire businessman, previously accused of meddling in Australia’s politics on behalf of China,conspired to bribe a prominent U.N. diplomat, an Australian politician said Tuesday, raising new concerns about China’s efforts to interfere in democracies worldwide.

Andrew Hastie, chairman of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, identified the businessman, Chau Chak Wing, as the person in a 2015 bribery case previously called only Co-conspirator No. 3.

“CC-3 is Dr. Chau Chak Wing,” Hastie said in a speech in the Australian Parliament’s Federation Chamber, adding, “The same man who co-conspired to bribe the U.N. president of the General Assembly, John Ashe.”

He continued, “The same man with extensive contacts in the Chinese Communist Party, including the United Front.”

In a criminal complaint filed in 2015, American prosecutors said several conspirators had paid John W. Ashe, an Antiguan diplomat and former president of the U.N. General Assembly, more than $1 million in luxury goods and cash from sources in China to assist with business deals.

Several people accused in the complaint were named, and the Australian news media had suggested in the past that Co-conspirator No. 3 was Chau. But his identity as the co-conspirator was confirmed only Tuesday.

Chau, a well-connected political donor in Australia,has also sued news organizations that he says have wrongly linked him to the bribery case. Hastie said he sought to issue a broader warning about China’s interference in Australian politics and the press.

“In Australia, it is clear that the Chinese Communist Party is working to covertly interfere with our media, our universities and also influence our political processes and public debates,” Hastie said.

Hastie’s speech is likely to fuel a global debate about China’s efforts to shape opinions and policy in the world’s democracies and democratic institutions.

Several Australian politicians have accused China of meddling in its politics. Australia’s intelligence chief identified Chau, an Australian citizen, in June as a possible agent of the Chinese government.

Duncan Lewis, the director of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, warned politicians against accepting contributions from Chau and another man of Chinese descent because of their ties to China’s government.

Chau, a billionaire property developer who immigrated to Australia decades ago, has said his campaign contributions are benign and unrelated to the Chinese government. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Chauis chairman of the Kingold Group, a business conglomerate based in Guangzhou, China, that has expanded to Australia. His name graces the modernist Dr. Chau Chak Wing Building at the University of Technology Sydney, to which he donated $15 million. The Chau family also owns New Express Daily, an Australian newspaper.

Chau filed a defamation suit last year aimed at two Australian news media companies: the Australian Broadcasting Corp., the national broadcaster, and Fairfax Media, a newspaper publisher. He has sought damages from them for a news report that the suit says damaged his personal and professional reputation.

In his speech, Hastie argued that Chau was trying to silence the press.

“My concern is that defamation cases can have a chilling effect on our free press,” Hastie said. “Any attempt to silence our media from telling the truth — provided it is the truth — through a defamation claim cannot stand.”

In the speech, Hastie said Australians “deserve the truth.”

Since the accusations of political meddling, Australia has taken steps to curb foreign interference. A series of bills introduced in December would strengthen the country’s espionage laws, outlaw foreign political donations and criminalize efforts to interfere in Australian democracy.

Sen. Sam Dastyari, a member of the opposition Labor Party, resigned in December amid accusations he pushed China’s foreign policy interests after taking money from Chinese-born political donors.

He had been widely criticized by opponents as a symbol of China’s efforts to compromise Australia’s democracy.

But the accusations leveled against Chau on Tuesday extend the reach of concern, suggesting that China’s efforts to meddle span national borders.

The 2015 bribery case, U.S. v. John W. Ashe et al, was considered the worst financial scandal at the United Nations in decades. That complaint was filed in the Southern District of New York.

The court did not respond to a request for comment.

The corruption case accused Ashe, the Antiguan diplomat, of accepting Rolex watches, bespoke suits and a private basketball court in exchange for official actions that benefited Chinese business interests.

In particular, Ashe accepted $200,000 in exchange for his attendance at the Global Summit of Small and Medium Enterprise Leaders in November 2013 in Guangzhou. The meeting was organized by Chau’s Kingold Group at the lavish Imperial Springs resort, according to the complaint.

Ashe died in an accident in June 2016 while awaiting trial. Several other defendants in the case were convicted and either got prison time or were awaiting sentencing. Co-conspirator No. 3 was never indicted, but it is not known why.