SYDNEY: A prominent Chinese billionaire political donor has been stripped of his Australian residency and barred from returning to the country after scrutiny of his Communist Party ties, media reported Wednesday.
Huang Xiangmo was reportedly left stranded outside of Australia after home affairs cancelled his permanent residency and rejected his application for citizenship.
The prominent property developer has donated millions to Australia’s two main political parties and been photographed with key figures including former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten.
But he has come under scrutiny for alleged links to the United Front Work Department — a Communist Party-linked body accused of neutralising opposition and buying political influence around the world.
Asked about Huang’s case, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he would not comment on such “sensitive matters”, but added “the government has always acted consistent with the advice that we’ve received and that’s what has happened on this occasion.”
Quoting unnamed sources, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper said Huang had his application for an Australian passport blocked on “character grounds” and concerns over the “reliability” of information he had supplied in interviews.
The Home Office declined AFP’s request for comment on the case.
Meanwhile, foreign minister Marise Payne played down suggestions that the decision to strip Xiangmo of his residency could poison relations between Canberra and Beijing.
The countries’ economies are deeply intertwined, but conflicting political systems and China’s increasingly strong-arm tactics in the Pacific region have made cooperation more difficult.
“I don’t expect it to be the subject of a bilateral discussion. These are matters that occur from time to time,” she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation when asked about the Huang case.
Australia’s main spy agency has long voiced concerns that China was interfering in Australian institutions and using the opaque political donations system to gain access.
It reportedly warned the country’s political elite about taking donations from Huang — who owns a multi-million-dollar mansion in Sydney — and a fellow billionaire property developer, Chau Chak Wing.
In 2017, one-time opposition Labor powerbroker Sam Dastyari was forced to quit politics when it emerged his office took cash from Huang to pay legal bills.
The Sydney Morning Herald said Dastyari had repeatedly contacted immigration personally to check on Huang’s case.
Canberra last year introduced sweeping reforms to its espionage and foreign interference laws, strengthening existing offences and introducing new ones targeting the foreign influence of domestic politics, including a ban on foreign donations to political parties.
“Foreign adversaries are actively working against Australia’s interests through a variety of means, including obtaining classified information or seeking to influence the outcome of Australia’s democratic processes,” the government said upon passing the laws in June.
Beijing has dismissed the claims of meddling as hysteria and paranoia.
On Wednesday Labor leader Bill Shorten — who polls tip to become Australia’s next prime minister — dodged questions about whether his party would return donations from Huang.
“Well, we stopped taking money from him a couple of years ago,” he told journalists. “In fact, Labor stopped taking donations from that gentleman and another person before the law caught up with our position,” he said.