Friday, September 6, 2019

Peter Hall QC and ICAC ignore former AG George Brandis in their determination to not call Minshen Zhu and Top Group

by Ganesh Sahathevan

As previously reported on this blog:

ICAC's own documents show that Peter Hall QC is unduly concerned with Huang Xiangmo for  many other donors were involved in that 15 March 2015 dinner that has become the subject matter of ICAC's "public inquiry into allegations concerning political donations".

In September 2016 former Commonwealth AG George Brandis was reported to have said in Parliament:
 Yuhu Group chairman Huang Xiangmo had been quoted in the Chinese media "complaining that Australian MPs were 'not delivering' on donations from the Chinese community"

These donations included money Dastyari and the ALP received from Minshen Zhu and his Top Group.

ICAC's own documents show that Zhu was a donor at that dinner. Zhu has also been reported to have made a political donation to Kogarah MP Chis Minns campaign, despite Minns having " no idea how the businessman, Top Education Group chief Minshen Zhu, came to nominate his campaign on the cheque, written on March 17 (2015)".

In ICAC's own words ,the general scope and purpose of the public inquiry is to gather evidence relevant to the allegation being investigated under section 13A of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988. This section addresses the ICAC’s function of investigating matters referred to it by the NSW Electoral Commission.

Given "the general scope" it is hard to see why  Minshen Zhu is not being called as a witness.



Escalating criticism

Last week, Senator Dastyari's comments were raised in Parliament by the nation's highest lawmaker, Attorney-General George Brandis.
In September 2016 then Attorney General Senator Brandis questioned whether the then  Labor frontbencher Sam Dastyari had been compromised by Minshen Zhu and his Top Group.
He laid out his reasoning in Parliament:
  • Top Education Institute — a company with links to Beijing through its principal Minshen Zhu — paid for an overspend on staff travel in Senator Dastyari's office.
  • Senator Dastyari said the bill was $1,670.82, but Senator Brandis wants a receipt or other proof of the amount to be disclosed.
  • Senator Brandis also wanted a dollar figure and receipt for another payment — a legal bill settled by the Yuhu Group.
  • He said Yuhu Group chairman Huang Xiangmo had been quoted in the Chinese media "complaining that Australian MPs were 'not delivering' on donations from the Chinese community".
  • Senator Brandis maintains in both cases that Senator Dastyari called on Chinese donors to pay personal debts, rather than donations.
  • A day earlier, when the travel bill was first reported by Fairfax, Senator Dastyari gave a brief speech in Parliament saying in hindsight he should not have accepted the assistance with the travel bill, and that he would donate a commensurate amount to charity.
  • Senator Brandis said that explanation was "woefully inadequate" and lasted for only 66 words.
  • The Attorney-General also pointed to reports Senator Dastyari urged Australia to drop its opposition to China's air defence zone in the South China Sea.
  • He also referred to a speech the senator made on March 17 2014, on the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Senator Dastyari said he was presenting the "Chinese view".
  • Senator Brandis further referred to an exchange in Senate Estimates on June 2, 2014. The former defence minister David Johnston said Senator Dastyari was asking sensitive questions about Australia's position on the South China Sea that were not "in the national interest".
The Attorney-General has said: "Senator Dastyari's acceptance of personal benefits from an entity or entities with links to the Chinese state and the carefully opaque way in which the payments have been described in the Register of Senators' Interests raise the inevitable question of whether Senator Dastyari, whether advertently or unwittingly, has allowed himself to be compromised".

Sean Nicholls
By Sean Nicholls
UpdatedSeptember 12, 2016 — 3.55pmfirst published at3.24pm
The businessman at the centre of the political furore over Senator Sam Dastyari wrote a cheque for $2000 to a Labor candidate at last year's state election who he has never met.
Kogarah MP Chris Minns says he has no idea how the businessman, Top Education Group chief Minshen Zhu, came to nominate his campaign on the cheque, written on March 17 last year.
The organiser of the Chinese Friends of Labor event for which donation was made, Labor MLC Ernest Wong, has previously said he has "no knowledge" of the donation.
But on Monday he said: "I suggest to members of the Chinese community that if they want to support Labor then they should do so in areas where there is a large number of Chinese people living there."
"Chinese people make up about 40 per cent of Kogarah. The cheque was never cashed."
Kogarah has the highest percentage of people of Chinese descent in Australia - a fact noted by Mr Minns in his inaugural speech a month after the cheque was written, during which he called for mandatory Mandarin lessons for NSW schoolchildren.
Senator Dastyari last week quit the opposition front bench over his declaration to parliament that at his request Top Education had paid a $1670 overspend in his office travel entitlement.
The following day Fairfax Media reported that the whereabouts of the $2000 cheque remained a mystery more than a year after it was written.
Election funding records shows the donation was for the annual Chinese Friends of Labor event held at The Eight restaurant in Sydney's Chinatown four days earlier and attended by more than 600 guests.

However, a return lodged with the NSW Electoral Commission by Top Education states: "Cheque received by ALP but hasn't been banked yet."
The cheque was never received by the party office and Top Education has declined to comment.
But Mr Minns has since revealed the cheque was received by his office.
He said it was never cashed it as it was not accompanied with a form stating that Dr Zhu and Top Education were entitled to donate to NSW election campaigns.
"When my campaign received the cheque in March 2015 it did not have the required documentation to ensure it came from an eligible donor," Mr Minns said.
"In the absence of that we decided to err on the side of caution and not process the donation."
However, election funding records show NSW Labor accepted a $1000 donation from Top Education on April 17 tied to a fundraiser hosted by Senator Dastyari at Sydney's Chinatown restaurant.
Senator Dastyari has said there is no link between the cheque and the payment of his travel debt.
Sean Nicholls
Sean Nicholls is the State Political Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.

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