July 31, 2019 / 6:22 AM / 18 days ago

Australian state corruption body to probe Labor's ties to Chinese community

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s most populous state will investigate if a Chinese friendship division of the country’s main opposition party broke rules on political donations, at a time of deepening concern over Chinese influence in Australia.

The anti-corruption watchdog of New South Wales said in a statement on Wednesday it will hold a public inquiry into whether the state Labor Party’s “Chinese Friends of Labor” group or other officials sought to circumvent rules on disclosing political donations.

The friends’ group raises donations for the Labor Party and includes politicians and members of the Chinese community.

The hearings begin next month and, according to the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, will question dealings between Labor figures and Chinese businessman Huang Xiangmo.

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption did not mention Huang in its statement and he has previously denied any wrongdoing. The Herald did not say how it knew Huang’s dealings would be the focus of the investigation and the commission declined to comment.

Yuhu, a property developer founded by Huang, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Huang or his representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

Huang’s Australian visa was revoked earlier this year, according to media reports that said he was deemed “unfit” for residency after intelligence agencies concluded he could undertake “acts of foreign interference”.

At the time, Huang told the Australian Financial Review that the decision was based on nothing more than “unfounded speculations that are prejudiced and groundless”.

The inquiry comes as Australia’s relationship with China, its largest trading partner, has been strained by worries in Canberra of Chinese meddling in its domestic affairs.

Beijing denies the accusation and says it never interferes in the internal affairs of another country.

Australia has banned Chinese telecommunications equipment-maker Huawei from supplying its 5G mobile networks and has sought to counter China’s rising influence in the Pacific Islands.

On Tuesday, Australia ordered an investigation into allegations immigration officials gave casino operator Crown Resorts preferential treatment by fast-tracking visas for Chinese gamblers.

Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Neil Fullick

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