Man’s plot to ‘cultivate’ minister for China

Melbourne businessman Di Sanh Duong has been jailed after trying to interfere with former federal minister Alan Tudge on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party in 2020. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Enrique Ascui

A long-serving member of the Victorian Liberal Party has been jailed for a foreign interference offence “aimed at the heart of the Australian government”.

Di Sanh “Sunny” Duong, 68, returned before the Victorian County Court on Thursday as Judge Richard Maidment imposed a two year and nine month term of imprisonment.

“I am unable to find any evidence of contrition or remorse,” Judge Maidment said.

“Your offending was aimed at the heart of the Australian government and amounts to a serious example of the offence.”

Di Sanh Duong was found guilty last year of trying to interfere with former federal minister Alan Tudge. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Enrique Ascui

Duong, a respected community leader in Melbourne’s ethnic-Chinese community and former Liberal Party Richmond-branch president, is the first person to be convicted under Australia’s foreign interference laws.

He was found guilty after a jury trial last year of a single charge of intentionally engaging in conduct with the intention of preparing for, or planning, foreign interference.

The case centred around a $37,450 donation made by Duong to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in June 2020 that was attended by then federal minister Alan Tudge.

On its face, the donation was a “purely altruistic” effort to assist healthcare workers and smooth tensions in the Australian community towards ethnic-Chinese residents during the early stages of Covid-19.

But Duong’s hidden motive was an effort to “cultivate” Mr Tudge for a future approach on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

His case centred around a hospital donation in early 2020. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Enrique Ascui

Judge Maidment said the evidence at trial proved Mr Tudge was selected because Duong believed he could be a future prime minister and “could be persuaded to influence government policy”.

Doung was found to have concealed relationships with Chinese intelligence officials going “as far back as 2006” and had been indoctrinated into the United Front – a global influence program run by the Chinese Communist Party.

“It is a sophisticated, far-reaching and evasive influence system,” Judge Maidment said.

“You were an adept proponent of the methodology … Developing relationships in Australia and overseas and hiding those relationships and motives behind innocuous community organisations.”

At trial, Duong denied the allegations, his lawyer arguing the hospital donation was “nothing out of the ordinary” for the philanthropic businessman.

Giving evidence, Alan Tudge told the jury he hoped to get positive media coverage of the donation at a time when the community was fearful of Covid-19. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Crosling

He will be required to serve 12 months of the sentence before he is eligible to be released on a recognizance order to be of good behaviour for four years.

Raising media reports of ASIO boss Mike Burgess’ annual threat assessment, where he revealed an unnamed ex-politician was recruited by a foreign intelligence service “several years ago”, Judge Maidment said he did not detect a link to Duong’s case.

“Finally, it was impossible to ignore the reports in the Australian press … concerning alleged historical offences for influence,” he said.

“I have no knowledge of the subject matter beyond what is reported today. I make it clear I do not detect any link to the facts of this case.

“I note there is no suggestion in these proceedings … that Alan Tudge or Robert Clarke are implicated in your offending or they acted improperly in any way in the dealings with you.”