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Former Australian defence minister’s Chinese Woman benefactor sued by a large state-owned-enterprise

Posted by Author on August 4, 2010

RICHARD BAKER, PHILIP DORLING AND SANGHEE LIU, The Age, Australia, August 4, 2010 –

A MAJOR Labor Party donor
and benefactor of former defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon is the subject of a formal complaint by a large Chinese state-owned-enterprise which alleges the businesswoman defrauded it of millions of dollars.

The Age has learned that Chinese-Australian property developer Helen Liu was named by a Beijing company in a complaint submitted to Chinese public security authorities earlier this year.

It is believed that the state-owned Beijing Heng Tong Trust and Investment Company has asked the authorities to investigate Ms Liu for allegedly embezzling $6 million through a 1990s real estate project in the port city of Qingdao that was designed to attract Australian investors.

Ms Liu has had an association with the Fitzgibbon family since the early 1990s and was last year identified by a group of Australian Defence Department officials as a potential national security threat because of her ties to some of China’s military, political and economic elite.

A major donor to New South Wales ALP, Ms Liu helped finance two of Mr Fitzgibbon’s election campaigns and also paid for him to travel to China twice in trips he belatedly disclosed to Federal Parliament.

Mr Fitzgibbon, who recently said publicly he wished to return to a ministerial portfolio if Labor wins the August 21 federal election, rented a Canberra residence from Ms Liu’s family while he served as defence minister from December 2007 until his mid-2009 resignation.

His resignation came because of conflict-of-interest issues involving his brother Mark, the head of health fund NIB.

Chinese authorities have allegedly been asked to investigate whether forged government approval documents and unregistered companies were used by Ms Liu to persuade the state-owned enterprise to invest in the project.

Representatives from Heng Tong declined to speak to The Age.

The Age reported earlier this year that Heng Tong accused Ms Liu of allegedly illegally diverting 24,680,000 Chinese yuan ($6 million) into her Australian property companies in the 1990s.

The companies, which controlled a Sydney property portfolio valued at about $60 million, have since been deregistered.

Two of the companies, Diamond Hill International and Wincopy, provided $40,000 to help finance Mr Fitzgibbon’s 1996 and 1998 federal election campaigns.

Ms Liu’s companies and her sister gave a further $105,000 to the NSW ALP between 1998 and 2007.

Mr Fitzgibbon’s position as defence minister was jeopardised in March 2009 when he repeatedly denied receiving any significant gifts or travel from Ms Liu.

However, shortly after his denials he disclosed he took trips to China in 2002 and 2005 that were funded by Ms Liu.

Mr Fitzgibbon, who denies any interest in Ms Liu’s commercial affairs, last year said through his then spokesman that both trips were for ”cultural” purposes.

His father, former Labor MP Eric Fitzgibbon, earlier this year admitted helping Ms Liu sell the Qingdao apartments that the Heng Tong company claims its money was meant for.

Ms Liu, who could not be contacted by The Age, has taken legal action against The Age to find out the source of documents obtained earlier this year which provide an insight into her commercial affairs.

Mr Fitzgibbon has taken legal action against several Fairfax Media publications, claiming reports about his friendship with Ms Liu had defamed him.

Fairfax has said it will vigorously defend the legal action.

With A.L.R. GAO

The Age

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