A Chinese community leader accused of planning foreign interference allegedly singled out former minister Alan Tudge because he believed he would one day be prime minister.
Prosecutors allege Di Sanh Duong, who uses the name Sunny, made a $37,000 donation to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in 2020 as a way to gain influence over the Australian government through Tudge.
Duong spoke to the then-citizenship minister in May 2020, with Tudge later joining the 67-year-old to hand over the donation cheque to the hospital.
Duong told an associate on 30 April 2020, he would meet with Tudge because he was a man who would be prime minister in the future, according to an intercepted phone call read to the court during his committal hearing.
Duong was “well acquainted” with Tudge and the minister could put forward Chinese issues at a federal level, the transcript said.
“These reasons are very telling,” prosecutor Patrick Doyle SC submitted to Melbourne magistrates court on Tuesday.
The 67-year-old, who was a member of the Liberal party, also had strong connections with the Chinese Communist party, Doyle alleged.
Duong was involved in a series of organisations allegedly linked to the Communist party’s United Front Work Department.
He also allegedly met with officials from China’s Ministry of State Security, including during a trip to China in January 2020.
Prosecutors allege Duong spoke to Victoria’s Liberal party president Robert Clark on 2 March 2019 about ideas the federal Coalition should take to the election.
Duong was instructed to email Clark, the court was told, asking him to consider China’s Belt and Road initiative, among other policies.
The interactions with Clark do not fall under the charge dates of March 2020 to June 2020.
But the background evidence showed Duong’s motives with the hospital donation were part of a broader agenda, Doyle submitted.
The defence argued the prosecution’s case lacked evidence Duong was receiving instructions from the Chinese Communist party to influence Australia.
There were no intercepted phone calls or messages to show such instructions and there was no evidence Duong was told anything of the sort during his January 2020 visit to China, defence barrister Neil Clelland QC said.
The Chinese Community party also did not check in with Duong or have him report back after the donation in June 2020, Clelland said.
The defence barrister argued the donation was merely a way for the Chinese Australian community to show they cared during the Covid-19 pandemic in light of anti-Chinese sentiment.
“There needs to be evidence, not merely innuendo … about what might happen in the future,” Clelland told the court.
“That’s what, we submit, this case is about.”
Duong was charged with preparing for, or planning, foreign interference in November 2020 following an AFP and Asio investigation.
The 67-year-old, who is the first person charged under Australia’s foreign interference laws, denies the allegations.
Magistrate Susan Wakeling will decide later this month whether Duong should be committed to stand trial or be discharged.
Duong’s bail was extended to his next court appearance.