Chinese-Australian political donor wins defamation case

A TV crew films outside the Fairfax Media headquarters in Sydney May 3, 2017. (Reuters pic)

SYDNEY: A Chinese-Australian billionaire businessman on Friday won a high-profile defamation case against a newspaper that alleged he was a co-conspirator in a plot to bribe a top United Nations official, amid fears of Beijing meddling in domestic politics.

Fairfax Media, publisher of The Sydney Morning Herald, was ordered to pay Chau Chak Wing A$280,000 (US$199,000) in damages after a judge at the Federal Court of Australia ruled that the 2015 article was defamatory.

“The natural and ordinary meaning of the words employed in the article, and the overall impression conveyed by the article considered as a whole, was not merely one of suspicion, but one of guilt,” Justice Michael Wigney said in his judgement.

“I consider their (Fairfax and its reporter) conduct to have been unreasonable in many respects.”

New Fairfax owner Nine said it would appeal the decision.

The decision came as tensions between Canberra and Beijing rise over fears of Chinese influence in Australian politics.

An Australian citizen who made his money in property development, Chau has consistently denied any links to the Communist Party of China or the UN scandal, and said Friday his faith in the Australian legal system “has been vindicated”.

Chau added that he would donate the damages to charities supporting Australian military veterans and their families.

The ruling came almost a year after Andrew Hastie — who chairs Canberra’s intelligence and security committee — used the legal protection of parliamentary privilege to identify Chau as a previously unnamed figure in a US Federal Bureau of Investigation case.

That case related to former UN president of the General Assembly, John Ashe, who was accused of accepting bribes from Chinese business persons seeking to influence the world body.

He was arrested in 2015 and died a year later. The scandal was a major blow to the UN.

Australia’s defamation laws have been criticised for being too biased towards plaintiffs and impinging on public-interest journalism.

Hastie said Friday that he was “concerned about the impact that defamation laws in Australia are having on responsible journalism that informs Australians about important national security issues”.