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Australian judge: Suggested China links defamed billionaire

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A Chinese-Australian billionaire was awarded 590,000 Australian dollars ($450,000) in damages on Tuesday after winning his defamation case over a state broadcaster’s investigation that suggested he was a Chinese Communist Party member who bribed Australia lawmakers to make decisions in China’s interests.

Chau Chak Wing, a businessman, philanthropist and political donor, sued Australian Broadcasting Corp. and Fairfax Media over the joint investigation that was broadcast on the national “Four Corners” program and published in newspapers in 2017.

Federal Court Justice Steven Rares ruled in Sydney that the 45-minute television program, presented by investigative journalist Nick McKenzie, contained several defamatory suggestions.

Two claims were rejected by the judge: that the program accused Chau of betraying Australia by engaging in espionage for China and an accusation that Chau paid a corrupt Chinese agent to assist him to infiltrate the Australian government on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

But Rares found four accusations were proven to be defamatory, including that Chau, who became an Australian citizen in 1999, was a member of the Chinese Communist Party who worked for the United Front Work Department, a secret lobbying arm of that party.

Also found defamatory was an accusation that Chau donated enormous sums to Australian political parties as bribes intended to influence politicians to make decisions in China’s and the Chinese Communist Party’s interests, the judge found.

The ABC and Nine Entertainment, which bought Fairfax Media in 2018, said in a joint statement that they were “deeply disappointed” by the ruling.

The ABC episode, “Power and Influence,” plus associated reports in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers “raised matters of vital public interest around the issue of Chinese foreign interference in Australia’s democracy,” the joint statement said.

“The reporting resulted in an important national discussion about the issue of foreign interference in Australia and led to the landmark Foreign Interference and Espionage laws being introduced in 2018,” the statement added, referring to a ban on covert interference in Australian politics that has angered China.

ABC and Nine said they were considering an appeal. The publishers had previously had their truth defense struck out, leaving only the question of whether the suggestions that Chau alleged had been conveyed in the reporting.

Chau’s lawyer Mark O’Brien welcomed the ruling.

“Dr. Chau is very pleased to have his reputation restored after such a baseless attack by Nick McKenzie and Four Corners,” O’Brien said in a statement.

Chau was born into a poor family in Guangdong province in China in 1949 and founded the Kingold Group of companies in Guangdong in the 1990s, according to court documents.

By ROD McGUIRK
Associated Press

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