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First particular person charged underneath Australia’s overseas interference legal guidelines denies working for China

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Attorneys for the primary particular person to be charged underneath Australia’s overseas interference legal guidelines insisted in court docket Friday {that a} donation to a hospital made through a federal authorities minister was not a covert try to curry favor on behalf of the Chinese language Communist Occasion.

Melbourne businessman and area people chief Di Sanh Duong, 68, has pleaded not responsible within the Victoria state County Court docket to a cost of getting ready for or planning an act of overseas interference. Vietnam-born Duong, who got here to Australia in 1980 as a refugee, faces a possible 10-year jail sentence if convicted within the landmark case.

He’s the primary particular person to be charged underneath federal legal guidelines created in 2018 that ban covert overseas interference in home politics and make industrial espionage for a overseas energy against the law. The legal guidelines offended Australia’s most essential buying and selling associate, China, and accelerated a deterioration in bilateral relations.

The allegation facilities on a novelty test that Duong handed then-Cupboard minister Alan Tudge at a media occasion in June 2020 as a donation towards the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s pandemic response.

The 37,450 Australian greenback (then equal to $25,800, now $24,200) donation had been raised from Melbourne’s native Chinese language diaspora.

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Protection lawyer Peter Chadwick advised the jury Duong denied “within the strongest attainable phrases” prosecutors’ allegations that he had tried to affect Tudge with the test. Duong was the native president of the neighborhood group Oceania Federation of Chinese language Organizations, a worldwide group for folks of Chinese language heritage from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

Chadwick additionally denied that Duong, who’s broadly often called Sunny, had been recruited by or collaborated with anybody related to the Chinese language Communist Occasion.

“The concern of COVID hung like a darkish cloud over the Chinese language neighborhood in Melbourne,” Chadwick advised the court docket.

“It’s in opposition to this backdrop that Mr. Duong and different ethnic Chinese language members of our neighborhood determined that they wished to do one thing to vary these unfair perceptions,” Chadwick added.

Prosecutors allege Duong advised colleagues he anticipated Tudge would turn out to be Australia’s subsequent conservative prime minister. However Tudge stop Parliament this 12 months, a number of months after the center-left Labor Occasion gained elections.

Duong stood as a candidate for the conservative Liberal Occasion in Victoria elections in 1996 and had remained energetic in celebration politics.

Occasion official Robert Clark testified on Friday that he dismissed as “very superficial and naïve” a number of of Duong’s coverage recommendations.

The recommendations included China constructing Australia’s first high-speed practice line between Melbourne and Brisbane.

Prosecutors opened their case on Thursday with allegations that Duong had secret hyperlinks to international efforts to advance the pursuits of the Chinese language Communist Occasion.

“Earlier than you begin pondering of spy novels and James Bond movies, this isn’t actually a case about espionage,” prosecutor Patrick Doyle advised the jury.

“It’s probably not a case about spies as such. It’s a case about a way more refined type of interference. It’s about affect,” Doyle added.

The trial continues subsequent week.

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