The NSW Labor Party received donations totalling at least $120,000 for last year’s federal election campaign from companies with links to a Chinese-born businessman selected to run as a party Senate candidate.
Four companies either run by or connected to “Simon” Shuo Zhou, a Sydney-based gold trader with strong political affiliations to a pro-Beijing lobby organisation, made separate donations to the NSW ALP over a 24-hour period just a week after the July 2 election was called.
Mr Zhou, given seventh spot on Labor’s Senate ticket in NSW last year, was also named in an Administrative Appeals Tribunal case as being connected to a company involved in a $143 million gold-trading scandal that resulted in the Australian Taxation Office demanding $20m in unpaid taxes and penalties.
Over the past few days he has quit from his part-time paid job as a party officer based in the NSW ALP’s head office with responsibility for handling relations with the Chinese community in Sydney.
The Australian understands Mr Zhou was recruited to the NSW ALP by Ernest Wong, a NSW upper house ALP member who took former state Labor minister Eric Roozendaal’s seat in 2013.
With introductions from Mr Wong, Mr Zhou came into close contact with a succession of past NSW ALP secretaries in the party’s Sussex Street office including Matt Thistlethwaite, Sam Dastyari and Jamie Clements, and the incumbent Kaila Murnain.
Mr Wong is close politically to Huang Xiangmo, a billionaire property developer with Chinese citizenship who is chairman of the North Sydney-based Yuhu Group and president of the pro-Beijing Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China.
Mr Zhou is also close to Mr Haung as a vice-president of the ACPPRC.
A network involving the NSW ALP in particular and senior business figures from Sydney’s Chinese community with political sympathies to Beijing has come to light since the airing last week of a joint ABC-Fairfax Four Corners program about China’s “soft power” influence in Australian politics.
While Chinese donors have given to the Coalition as well, the links of pro-Beijing figures appear to run much deeper inside Labor.
After vacating his upper house seat for Mr Wong, Mr Roozendaal went straight to work for Mr Huang as deputy chairman and executive director of his Yuhu Group. Mr Clements has also moved in Mr Huang’s circle since he was forced to resign as ALP secretary early last year.
The Australian understands Mr Zhou first came to the attention of ALP figures when he helped Mr Thistethwaite campaign in the federal Sydney seat of Kingsford Smith in the 2013 election campaign.
Mr Zhou was one of two Chinese-born men given places on NSW Labor’s Senate ticket for last year’s federal election — Mr Zhou in the seventh spot, and Paul Han, a former adviser to now Labor senator Sam Dastyari in the 11th spot — out of 12 on the party ticket. Neither Mr Zhou nor Mr Han were given winnable positions.
But senior ALP figures who observed the process said candidates down the Senate ticket order were often given a test-run in unwinnable spots, and could move higher up the pecking order at subsequent elections. One senior figure said that could be a matter of status for Mr Zhou in particular if he was seen by the ACPPRC and Beijing as potentially gaining some influence inside the Labor Party in Australia.
The ACPPRC supports the reunification of the Communist Party-controlled China with Taiwan, but its most contentious lobbying efforts are in support of China’s maritime claims over the South China Sea and its commercial shipping lanes.
Both the Coalition and Labor reject China’s territorial claims — but the issue has caused political problems for Senator Dastyari. He was reported in official Chinese media last year as saying that Australia should not meddle in Beijing’s territorial claims. Senator Dastyari was forced to step down from his frontbench position after it was revealed that he received financial help with a legal bill from Mr Huang.
The NSW ALP on Tuesday insisted it did not know about Mr Zhou’s links to political donations to the party made around the time he stood as a Senate candidate, and insisted the two things were not connected. The party also did not know, according to senior sources, that Mr Zhou had been named in connection with an Administrative Appeals Tribunal decision in February this year which upheld the ATO’s claim on a company called Eastwin for $13m in unpaid taxes and $7m in penalties.
Mr Zhou’s company Australian Coin Exchange (ACX) bought gold from Eastwin from early 2014, while his other companies, Bullion Club Australia and AGSX, provided bullion to a supplier of Eastwin. ACX collapsed this year, owing the ATO $2.5m.
The NSW party hierarchy on Tuesday checked companies it considered were linked to Mr Zhou. It is believed the search had unearthed two others that made donations — including $25,000 from one called BJF Pty Ltd in June last year. The BJF donation was made on June 27 last year — a different time period to others — but the donated funds were declared to the AEC on November 17 last year, the same day as four of the others.
Mr Zhou did not return The Australian’s call on Tuesday.
By BRAD NORINGTON