Media

Chinese-Australian billionaire says he was defamed by TV report which suggested he was a spy


The Chinese-Australian billionaire Dr Chau Chak Wing had a reputation of being an honourable, ethical and very generous philanthropist, his defamation lawsuit against the ABC and Nine has been told.

Winkey Chau also gave evidence on Wednesday, saying her father had been very hurt and “kept asking why” after he was “accused of being a spy and painted as really corrupt” in a June 2017 Four Corners broadcast.

Chau has taken legal action in the federal court against the ABC, Nine and the journalist Nick McKenzie, an investigative reporter at the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, over the joint report.

McKenzie presented the program and the investigation included an accompanying article on the ABC website.

Chau’s lawyers alleged the broadcast and article defamed their client in six ways, including by suggesting he was a spy who “betrayed his country, Australia, in order to serve the interests of a foreign power, China”.

They also say the publications suggest Chau “donated enormous sums of money to Australian political parties as bribes intended to influence politicians to make decisions to advance the interests of the Republic of China, the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist party”.

The former vice-chancellor of the University of Technology Sydney Ross Milbourne said Chau donated $20m for its new business school building and another $5m for scholarships.

“He was regarded by a number of people as a very generous and honourable man and an ethical man,” he said.

Winkey Chau said she was shocked and surprised at the broadcast, after which she had a “very awkward and emotional” conversation with her father, who was obviously very hurt.

“Throughout the conversation, I had to ask him several times whether I should continue because he had long pauses,” she said. “He just kept asking me why – he just couldn’t believe what was said.”

The University of Sydney’s director of museum and cultural engagement, David Ellis, described Chau as very generous and “a quiet giver”. He had donated $15m to the museum, which was due to open in five weeks.

Chau was deemed to be a very generous philanthropist interested in the arts and culture and in supporting Australian-Chinese relations.

He previously successfully sued Fairfax media for defamation over a 2015 story that insinuated he bribed a former UN president.

Ellis said after the publication of that article he received a flurry of emails asking whether the university should be concerned about Chau. While this had died down to some degree by the time of the Four Corners program, the broadcast resulted in more negative comments asking if funding should be accepted from him after such serious allegations.

Warwick Smith, a businessman and former MP who helped set up the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations, also gave evidence on Wednesday about Chau, whom he had known for many years.

Chau was known in business and political circles as a philanthropist with a good reputation, Smith said. He never had any concerns about him and found him to be “a fine man”.

The legal team for the media organisations called no witnesses. Justice Steven Rares will hear final submissions on Thursday.



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