Man accused of foreign interference for CCP says hospital donation was attempt to reduce anti-Chinese sentiment

A Chinese community leader accused of using a $37,000 hospital donation to gain influence over the Australian government says he was only trying to reduce anti-Chinese sentiment.

Prosecutors allege Di Sanh Duong, 67, made the donation to the Royal Melbourne hospital in 2020 as a way to interfere with a federal minister on behalf of the Chinese Communist party.

Duong, a former member of the Liberal party, was charged with preparing for, or planning, foreign interference in November 2020 after an investigation by the Australian federal police and Asio.

Duong, the first person charged under Australia’s foreign interference laws, has denied the allegations in Melbourne magistrates court at a committal hearing.

The court was told Duong spoke to the former federal minister Alan Tudge in May 2020 after his community organisation raised $37,000 for the hospital.

He asked Tudge to attend an event handing over the hospital cheque as a way to gain publicity for the donation, the court was told.

Defence barrister Neil Clelland QC told the court on Monday Duong wanted to draw attention to the fundraising effort only to reduce rising anti-Chinese sentiment in Australia.

Clelland referred to media releases from the state and federal governments in February and March 2020 about racist incidents against people of Chinese heritage.

In phone intercept transcripts read to the court, Duong and two associates spoke in March 2020 about raising funds to purchase about 20,000 face masks for the Australian government.

When Chinese suppliers told the group the delivery of the masks would be delayed until late May, they instead decided to give the money directly to a Victorian hospital.

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Duong’s organisation raised the funds as a way to give back to Australia and to show that the Chinese community cared, Clelland said.

“There is a recurrent theme [in the conversations] to show Australia that we’re good citizens and we care,” he told the court.

The organisation had previously donated to Australian bushfire appeals and other causes, the court was told.

But an AFP informant, referred to as Witness Three, told the court Duong had ulterior motives.

“There’s nothing illegal about the donations,” the witness said in their evidence. “But [Duong] used the donations to get access to the minister.

“He has broad and deep connections to a foreign principal.”

Duong, the Liberal candidate for the seat of Richmond in the 1996 Victorian elections, resigned from the party after the charges in 2020.

He remains on bail. The committal hearing continues on Tuesday.


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