A billionaire businessman previously accused of meddling in Australian politics on China's behalf was a co-conspirator in a plot to bribe a top United Nations official, a senior Australian politician has claimed.
Andrew Hastie, who chairs Canberra's intelligence and security committee, used the legal protection of parliamentary privilege to say that Chinese-Australian Chau Chak Wing was a figure codenamed CC-3 by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.
"CC-3 is Dr Chau Chak Wing," Hastie said in a speech on Tuesday evening, further fuelling fears about Chinese efforts to shape policy and opinion in democracies.
"The same man who co-conspired to bribe the UN president of the General Assembly, John Ashe. The same man with extensive contacts in the Chinese Communist Party," he said.
"I share it with the house because I believe it to be in the national interest."
Hastie's allegation follows recent meetings with US intelligence and security agency officials, whom he said confirmed the identity. He said the reasons CC-3 had not been charged were "best undisclosed".
Beijing on Wednesday blasted the disclosure during a press briefing, calling it "purely a sheer fabrication out of nothing" and "not worth refuting".
"Some people in Australia are always making up fabrications because of their political considerations," said foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang, adding such remarks are "harmful to China-Australian relations and hurtful to China's image."
Ashe, an Antiguan who was UN General Assembly president for a year from September 2013, was accused of accepting bribes from Chinese businesspeople 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, which seeks to promote corruption-free good governance worldwide.
It prompted the UN to overhaul financial oversight of the General Assembly president's office.
Several people named in the conspiracy have previously been named and some have been jailed. But the identity of CC-3 has never been made public.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was caught off guard by the revelation, admitting he had not been forewarned by Hastie and had sought advice from national security agencies on the implications of publicly revealing intelligence from an ally.
But he also claimed the allegations were not new "and I do not propose to say anything more about them because they are subject to judicial proceedings".
- Denies links -
Chau last year was at the centre of an investigation by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Fairfax Media, which claimed he and another man had donated millions of dollars to Australian political parties over a decade.
The reports led Canberra to announce an inquiry into espionage laws and foreign government interference, amid growing concerns about China using the political donations system to gain access.
Beijing reacted furiously to the moves and ties have been tense ever since, with the Chinese foreign ministry saying Canberra needed to "take off its tinted glasses" if it wanted to improve relations.
Chau, an Australian citizen who made his money in property development, has consistently denied any links to the Communist Party or the UN scandal and is suing the two media organisations.
His lawyer in that defamation case, Mark O'Brien, told The Australian newspaper Wednesday that Hastie had slandered his client and the reason Chau was given the CC-3 pseudonym was to protect his reputation because he was never a suspect.
"Dr Chau has brought these defamation proceedings to give his accusers the opportunity to prove their allegations in court," he said.
"If he was concerned about them, he would not have exposed himself to these proceedings."
Hastie said he was partly motivated to speak out because of Chau's lawsuit. "My concern is that defamation cases can have a chilling effect on our free press," he said.
Australian lawmaker Andrew Hastie used parliamentary privilege to name Chinese-Australian billionaire businessman Chau Chak Wing as a co-conspirator in a UN bribery scandal