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Businessman accused of working for China wins defamation payout in Australia

SYDNEY (AFP) – Two Australian media companies were ordered on Tuesday (Feb 2) to pay a prominent businessman hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages over a report alleging he was covertly working for China’s ruling Communist Party.

A federal judge ruled that Nine Entertainment and public broadcaster ABC had broken Australia’s strict defamation laws in their 2017 investigative report about Guangdong-born businessman Chau Chak Wing.

The two publications were ordered to pay around US$450,000 (S$600,000) and to withdraw reports that Chau worked for Beijing’s United Front Work Department – an organisation that promotes political party interests overseas.

They also suggested that Chau bribed local politicians “to advance the interests” of China and was one of those involved in a scheme to bribe then-president of the General Assembly of the United Nations John Ashe.

Ashe was accused by US prosecutors of taking more than US$1 million in bribes from Chinese businessmen, but died before the case concluded.

Chau denied the allegations and sought damages for defamation.

The judge made no ruling on whether the allegations were true or not, but agreed the report contained “defamatory matter”.

At the time of its release, the report spurred public interest in China’s influence operations in Australia, where the government has since passed legislation to combat foreign interference.

In a joint statement, ABC and Nine said they were “deeply disappointed” by the ruling, which they said would “have a further chilling effect on media freedom in this country”.

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Chau, an Australian citizen, owns China-based Kingold Group, a property development firm.

He has also attached his name to a number of high-profile philanthropic projects in Australia, including the recently opened “Chau Chak Wing Museum” at Sydney University and the Frank Gehry-designed “Dr Chau Chak Wing Building” at the University of Technology Sydney, from which he received an honorary doctorate.

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