A Chinese billionaire at the centre of a NSW anti-corruption probe hired former NSW Labor general secretary Jamie Clements as a $200,000-a-year consultant months after he quit the top job, an inquiry has heard.
Huang Xiangmo has been accused at the Independent Commission Against Corruption of being the true source of $100,000 given to NSW Labor during a 2015 Chinese Friends of Labor dinner, with the money declared as coming from 12 “straw donors”.
As a property developer, Mr Huang was banned from making NSW political donations at the time.
Mr Huang’s translator and assistant, Tim Xu, on Tuesday gave evidence at ICAC that Mr Clements was employed as a consultant within months of his resignation as general secretary in January 2016 amid a sexual harassment scandal.
He received free rent at a Sydney CBD office owned by a property development firm associated with Mr Huang as well as an annual retainer of up to $200,000.
The office was on the same floor as the Australian Council for the Peaceful Reunification of China – a community group then headed by Mr Huang and considered a front for the Chinese Communist Party.
Mr Xu said Mr Clements provided political consultancy work, networking services and media training to Mr Huang.
After the 2015 CFL dinner Mr Clements is alleged to have personally received the $100,000 cash from Mr Huang in an Aldi plastic shopping bag, which he then passed on to NSW Labor figure Kenrick Cheah for counting.
“At the time Mr Clements was pretty stressed because of the loss of his job and he was seeking help from Mr Huang for his own career,” Mr Xu said on Tuesday.
“I believe Mr Huang approached Mr Clements after the sudden loss of his job and during the conversation, Mr Clements expressed that he was pretty stressed because of the loss of income.”
Mr Clements is scheduled to give evidence at ICAC on Wednesday.
Mr Xu said Mr Clements’ retainer had since been terminated.
ICAC chief commissioner Peter Hall QC reiterated on Tuesday that Mr Huang – who is in China and has until now declined to give evidence via video link – was still welcome to provide ICAC testimony.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Cheah told the commission he didn’t probe former upper house MP Ernest Wong on the veracity of the 12 CFL cash donors because he “didn’t want to be a hero” or implicate himself in illegality.
Mr Cheah was accused of delaying the allotment of donor receipts at the behest of Mr Wong and changing two purported $10,000 contributions to avoid the suspicion of submitting 10 identical CFL donations.
In a tense and often rancorous appearance in the ICAC witness box, Mr Cheah confirmed he had been asked by Mr Wong to change two CFL donation forms, with Leo Liao and Steve Tong listed as $5000 Country Labor donors in place of Valentine Yee and To Yip.
Mr Cheah said he never asked Mr Wong about the money’s origins and didn’t know Mr Huang’s profession until years after the incident.
“It didn’t occur to me that it was anything suspicious. I followed the instructions because I wasn’t looking for fraud,” Mr Cheah said.
“I’d rather keep my involvement in the whole thing to what it is, doing my job.
“If I’d asked questions like that, that would’ve just drawn me in deeper. I don’t want to be a hero. My civic duty is not to investigate.”