Alleged fake donor says he funded Labor donation with Chinese ‘lucky money’ | Australia news
The Independent Commission Against Corruption is examining whether a series of straw donors, or false donors, were used to mask the true source of a $100,000 donation to NSW Labor.
The commission has heard testimony that the money came from Huang Xiangmo, a Chinese billionaire and banned donor, who is alleged to have paid for seats next to Bill Shorten and Luke Foley at a 2015 fundraising dinner. Icac is investigating whether records of 20 donations of $5,000 were falsified to cover up Huang’s gift.
A previous witness, Labor’s former fundraising director Patty Barrett, has stated she never saw cash donations as large as $5,000 at any dinner event during her entire career.
Valentine Yee, the son of a prominent Chinatown restaurateur, is one of those who purportedly gave $5,000 to NSW Labor on the night of the dinner. Yee is not a supporter of the Labor party, and said he counted himself more as a conservative.
Yee faced a barrage of questioning at Icac on Thursday as he sought to explain how he made the $5,000 donation.
He was forced to repeatedly revise or alter his evidence throughout the day, was accused of inventing falsehoods to protect his family, and denied allegations he had not “donated a cent” to Labor and had never attended the 2015 dinner.
Yee insisted that he had both attended the dinner and made the $5,000 donation.
Yee said he had $5,000 in cash from a series of “lucky money” gifts he had received from family for Chinese New Year the month prior to the dinner. Lucky money is a reference to cash gifts exchanged at occasions of significance for the Chinese community.
Yee said he would have received 50 separate cash gifts of an average of $100 as lucky money.
Counsel assisting, Scott Robertson, responded: “Are you seriously saying that 50 people gave you an average of $100 in lucky money in 2015? Is that your serious evidence?”
Yee responded: “Yes.”
The chief commissioner, Peter Hall, labelled his answer a “nonsense”.
“It’s nonsense isn’t it? That’s a nonsense answer?” Hall said.
Yee, the chief financial officer at Sydney’s Emperor’s Garden restaurant, denied it was a nonsense answer.
Earlier, Yee was asked whether the former Labor MP Ernest Wong had requested he donate to Labor. He said Wong had not asked him to donate.
The request had come from his brother, Jonathan Yee, a senior figure within the Chinese Friends of Labor group and someone who had aspirations for a political career with Labor, he said.
But the commission was soon shown a response Valentine Yee had previously given to the NSW electoral commission, which first investigated donation irregularities before passing the case to Icac.
Yee had told the electoral commission that Wong had, in fact, asked him to donate.
“He may have asked. I can’t remember,” Yee said, when shown the document.
Robertson responded: “So we’re revising another part of your evidence from this morning are we?”
It was at least the third time Yee had changed his evidence throughout the day after being pressed by Robertson. He had earlier said he’d “have to change” or “revise” evidence about whether he sat with his father on the night of the fundraising dinner, where his table was positioned in the room, and whether he’d seen his father or mother hand over cash donations on the night.
Yee giggled at times during his evidence. At one point, Robertson asked him what it was about the evidence that was so funny.
“Sorry, is there something funny? Are you laughing because you’ve been caught out in another lie? Is that why you’re laughing and giggling?”
The inquiry continues on Thursday.