Corruption watchdog probes hotel mogul’s alleged donations

The developer behind two of Australia’s highest profile hotel projects handed $100,000 in cash to a NSW Labor party boss in the lead up to the 2015 state election, a corruption inquiry has heard.

Property mogul Huang Xiangmo, the founder of the Yuhu group responsible for Gold Coast’s Jewel and Sydney’s One Circular Quay projects, is said to have given the cash to NSW Labor’s then general secretary, Jamie Clements in an alleged breach of donation rules.

NSW ‘s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is conducting a six-week inquiry into allegations Labor received the funds from “pretend donors”.  

Labor’s financial records show $100,000 was received at a Chinese Friends of Labor fundraising dinner in March 2015, the collection of smaller individual donations made mainly by employees and family members of Jonathan Yee, general manager of the Sydney Chinatown venue Emperor’s Garden Restaurant.

“The implausibility that restaurant workers would have the financial capacity to make lump sum donations of $5,000 or $10,000 led the electoral commission to suspect that the $100,000 in cash was donated on behalf of a person other than those who appeared on disclosures,” said counsel assisting the commission, Scott Robertson.

NSW Labor’s then community relations director, Kenrick Cheah, told investigators Huang had attended Clements’ office more than three weeks after the dinner and handed over a $100,000 cash donation placed in an ALDI shopping bag.

Robertson said the ICAC will investigate if “pretend donors” were employed by NSW Labor to conceal the fact that Huang was the real source of funds. Under state laws introduced in 2009, property developers are banned from making political donations.

The Chinese billionaire, Beijing’s former top lobbyist in Australia, saw his Australian permanent residency revoked in February over political interference concerns.

He passed chairmanship of the Yuhu Group to his son, Jimmy, at the end of last year.

The $1.4 billion waterfront triple-tower Jewel development, which has been dogged by financing hold-ups, on-site accidents and industrial disputes, is due for completion by 2020, with luxury international brand Langham last month named as operator for the hotel tower component.  

A premium luxury hotel is also planned for One Circular Quay, with applications recently made to increase the hotel footprint from 17 to 19 levels in the premium Sydney harbourside location.

Over the next six weeks, ICAC will hear from NSW Labor representatives and Chinese Friends of Labor in relation to the donations investigation, plus nine of the ten supposed donors. 

The tenth, Leo Liao, committed suicide before giving evidence to the watchdog last year, writing in a note to his wife that the investigation process reminded him of his father’s interrogation and jailing in China.

The former deputy general manager of property company Wu International wrote: “The real situation was that I was involved in a political donation, using my own money on this donation, which did not directly show on my bank card and credit card.”

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