A federal senator has used parliamentary privilege to suggest a prominent Chinese-Australian political donor is the mysterious “puppeteer” behind a thwarted foreign interference plot to back political candidates in the next election.
During a Senate estimates hearing, Labor senator Kimberley Kitching alleged the wealthy businessman behind the recent overseas conspiracy was property developer Chau Chak Wing.
Dr Chau has denied the claim, labelling it “baseless and reckless”.
Her comments follow last week’s revelation from ASIO boss Mike Burgess that his security agency recently blocked an overseas-funded operation to bankroll unsuspecting candidates in an unspecified election.
During his annual threat assessment speech on Wednesday, Mr Burgess declined to name the country behind the conspiracy, or whether it was a federal, state or local election that was targeted.
“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 told the committee hearing on Monday night.
“I believe it to be Chau Chak Wing. Are you able to confirm that it is Chau Chak Wing?” Senator Kitching asked Mr Burgess.
The ASIO boss told the committee he would not discuss the matter publicly.
“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,” Mr Burgess said.
“I think it’s unfair that you ask me that question in public.”
In a statement, Dr Chau said Senator Kitching had hidden behind the “shield of parliamentary privilege” to vilify and attack him without evidence.
“I am a businessman and philanthropist. I have never had any involvement or interest in interfering with the democratic election process in Australia,” Dr Chau said.
“In 2017, the ABC and Nine journalist Nick McKenzie made a similar allegation in a Four Corners report. The Federal Court subsequently awarded me very substantial damages which I donated to charity.
“I invite Senator Kitching to show some courage and integrity by repeating her claim and revealing the sources she says she relied on, outside the parliament.”
Dr Chau is an Australian citizen originally from China, who has donated millions of dollars to Australia’s major political parties, universities and charities that help veterans.
In 2018, Liberal MP Andrew Hastie also named Dr Chau in parliament as being closely associated with the Chinese Communist Party’s lobbying arm, the United Front Work Department, and alleged he was a co-conspirator in an FBI bribery case.