Australia bans politically-connected Chinese billionaire

SYDNEY (AFP, REUTERS) - A prominent Chinese billionaire political donor has been stripped of his Australian residency and barred from returning to the country after scrutiny of his Communist Party ties, local media reported Wednesday (Feb 6).

Huang Xiangmo - a property developer who has donated millions to Australia's two main political parties - has been at the centre of a spate of political interference concerns.

On Wednesday, he was left stranded outside the country after the Home Affairs office cancelled his permanent residency and turned down his application for Australian citizenship, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Quoting unnamed sources, the Sydney Morning Herald said Huang had his application for an Australian passport blocked for a range of reasons, including what the paper said were "character grounds" and concerns over the "reliability" of information he had supplied in interviews.

The Home Office declined AFP's request for comment on the case.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, asked about Huang, who had in recent years emerged as one of Australia's biggest political donors, said he would not comment on a "sensitive matter".

"The government has always acted consistent with the advice that we receive and that's what has happened on this occasion,"he told reporters.

Morrison, asked later about money that Huang had donated, referred to the law introduced to ban foreign donations. "The actions we've been taking in relation to this gentleman, that's based on information that exists today,"Morrison said. He did not elaborate.

Australia's spy agency has long voiced concerns that China was interfering in Australian institutions and using the political donations system to gain access.

It reportedly warned the country's political elite about taking donations from Huang, and a fellow billionaire property developer, Chau Chak Wing.

In 2017 disgraced Australian senator - and one-time opposition Labor powerbroker - Sam Dastyari quit politics over his links to China.

The Sydney Morning Herald said Dastyari had repeatedly contacted immigration personally to check on Huang's case. Previous reports have said he also warned Huang that his telephone had been tapped by Australian intelligence.

Canberra last year introduced sweeping reforms to its espionage and foreign interference laws, strengthening existing offences and introducing new ones targeting the foreign influence of domestic politics.

"Foreign adversaries are actively working against Australia's interests through a variety of means, including obtaining classified information or seeking to influence the outcome of Australia's democratic processes," the government said upon passing the laws in June.

The laws have strained relations with Beijing, which dismissed the claims of meddling as hysteria and paranoia.

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