Chinese businessman accused of foreign interference blames Australia tax probe on politics

Huang Xiangmo, a long-term Sydney resident, had been a prominent donor to Australia's two major parties before he was blocked from re-entering the country last week. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM YUHUGROUP.COM.AU

MELBOURNE (REUTERS) - A prominent Chinese businessman and Australian political donor has dismissed an investigation by Australia's tax authorities into his assets as politically motivated.

Mr Huang Xiangmo, linked in the past to a row about the promotion of Chinese interests in Australia, had a citizenship application rejected and lost his rights to residency in February.

Intelligence agencies had concluded he could undertake "acts of foreign interference" and that he was unfit for residency, according to Australian media reports at the time that cited unidentified sources.

The Australian Tax Office (ATO) is pursuing Huang for A$140 million (S$130.56 million) in unpaid taxes, according to local media.

"Never have I ever had any history of default anywhere, let alone any record of tax evasion," said Mr Huang, who said he has been unable to return to Australia since.

"Regarding this case where ATO has been reduced to a despicable tool of political persecution, I have entrusted my lawyers to handle the dealings in hopes that the rule of law in Australia survives," he said in a statement on his website.

Mr Huang raised a number of what he said were mistakes in the ATO's assessment of his assets, and said that he and his tax agent, Deloitte, had always been thorough and transparent in their dealings. Deloitte declined to comment.

The ATO said it could not comment on the affairs of specific taxpayers due to confidentiality, and also in this case because the matter was before the courts.

"The ATO administers the taxation and superannuation laws fairly, and taxation laws require the Commissioner of Taxation to administer taxation laws independently," it said in a statement.

"The ATO operates under the common law principle of natural justice, to act fairly and without perceived or actual bias."

Those dissatisfied with their assessment can object and seek external review, either via an appeals tribunal or the Federal Court, it added.

Mr Huang emerged as one of Australia's biggest political donors soon after he began living in Australia, giving to both the country's main political parties.

He rose to prominence after an influential opposition lawmaker was forced to resign in 2017, following allegations that he was linked to Chinese-aligned interests.

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