A wealthy Chinese businessman has been named under parliamentary privilege as the suspected “puppeteer” behind a foiled plot.
Wealthy Chinese businessman Chau Chak Wing has been named under parliamentary privilege by a Labor senator as the suspected “puppeteer” behind a foiled foreign interference plot to get political candidates elected.
Victorian Labor senator Kimberley Kitching used parliamentary privilege on Monday night to ask Mike Burgess, the head of Australia’s spy agency ASIO, whether the property developer was the mystery man involved in the alleged plot.
Dr Chau, who is an Australian citizen, was previously awarded $590,000 after a judge found he was defamed by an ABC program that portrayed him as a Communist Party member.
His lawyers argued the program carried six defamatory imputations including that he “betrayed” his country through espionage, is a member of China’s Communist Party and made enormous donations to influence politicians.
By naming Dr Chau under parliamentary privilege on Monday night, Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching cannot be sued for defamation.
“I am reliably informed that the puppeteer mentioned in your case study in your annual threat assessment speech given last week is Chau Chak Wing,” Senator Kitching said.
“I believe it to be Chau Chak Wing. Are you able to confirm that it is Chau Chak Wing?”
Mr Burgess declined to comment, telling the hearing “Senator as I said before, I will not comment on speculation of who is and who isn’t targets, in general or in specific, as you are asking me there.”
Dr Chau has previously been named in Parliament by Liberal MP Andrew Hastie in 2018. Mr Hastie used parliamentary privilege to claim Dr Chau “co-conspired to bribe” a senior UN official. Dr Chau also rejected these allegations.
The use of parliamentary privilege to name Dr Chau follows ASIO warning last week it had foiled a foreign interference plot.
“I can confirm that ASIO recently detected and disrupted a foreign interference plot in the lead-up to an election in Australia,” he said in his speech.
“I’m not going to identify the jurisdiction because we are seeing attempts at foreign interference at all levels of government, in all states and territories.”
News.com.au has previously reported that the jurisdiction was NSW and the plot is believed to have been targeting the Labor Party.
“The employee hired by the puppeteer began identifying candidates likely to run in the election who either supported the interests of the foreign government or who were assessed as vulnerable to inducements and cultivation,” he said.
“The employee used existing relationships with politicians, staffers and journalists to select potential targets, without revealing the secret intent, the foreign connection or the puppeteer’s involvement.”
Last week, Labor leader Anthony Albanese lashed the Prime Minister as “desperate” for trying to weaponise highly classified ASIO reports to suggest China is trying to infiltrate the ALP.
Mr Albanese tried to shut down speculation that the target of the foreign inference plot was NSW Labor insisting that ASIO had reassured him it had “no issue” with any of its candidates.
However, he did not deny that ASIO had briefed him on a secret plot that it had disrupted before candidates even knew what was happening.
The Labor leader accused the Prime Minister of trashing the bipartisan tradition in matters of national security for political purposes to win the next election.
“I say to them, that national security is too important to engage in, in game playing, such as what we saw on the floor of the parliament,’’ Mr Albanese said.
“However much the government needs a distraction.”
Mr Albanese revealed he had spoken to ASIO boss Mike Burgess on Friday and asked permission to confirm ASIO had no issues with any Labor candidates.
“I asked him if I could indicate that I’ve spoken to Mr Burgess today and he has reaffirmed that he has not raised concern at any of my candidates. I can’t be clearer than that,” he said.