Hospital gift 'to gain govt influence'

Emily WoodsAAP
Di Sanh Duong quit the Liberal Party after being charged under foreign interference laws.
Camera IconDi Sanh Duong quit the Liberal Party after being charged under foreign interference laws. Credit: AAP

A former Liberal Party candidate allegedly donated $37,000 to a Melbourne hospital to gain future influence with the Australian government on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party, a court has heard.

Melbourne Chinese community leader Di Sanh Duong quit the Liberal Party after becoming the first person charged under Australia's foreign interference laws in November 2020.

Duong is accused of preparing for, or planning, foreign interference, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

The charges follow an AFP and ASIO investigation into Duong, which Melbourne Magistrates Court heard included intercepted phone calls between Duong and federal Education Minister Alan Tudge's office.

One of those calls included Duong phoning a former staffer from Mr Tudge's office in March 2020 to offer help to obtain COVID-19 testing kits, defence barrister Neil Clelland QC told the court on Tuesday.

While questioning an AFP informant, Mr Clelland said a "series of interactions" between Mr Tudge's office and Duong did not result in COVID-19 testing kits, but instead a $37,000 donation to Royal Melbourne Hospital.

Mr Clelland said Mr Tudge's office made an inquiry into whether there were any national security concerns about Duong before attending the donation ceremony to receive the "novelty cheque", but was told there were none.

However, Duong was under investigation by the AFP and ASIO at that time and the attorney-general had authorised intercepts of Duong's phone calls, Mr Clelland said.

The informant, known under the pseudonym witness three, said he was not aware of whether the attorney-general had informed any members of the federal government about the investigation or intercepts.

Witness three said phone intercepts had identified that when Duong travelled to China he was a member of a group aligned with the Chinese Communist Party's United Front Work Department.

He said the AFP investigation alleged Duong used the hospital donation as a way to gain future influence with Mr Tudge and the federal government.

Duong, the Liberal candidate for the seat of Richmond in the 1996 Victorian elections, resigned from the party following the charges in 2020.

He remains on bail and is set to appear again on Wednesday, as the committal hearing continues.

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