Michael Sainsbury. FIRB credibility shot with execution of Chinese gangster.

Liu Han, the Chinese criminal whose billion dollar bid for Australian mining company Sundance Resources sailed through the Foreign Investment Review Board with barely the bat of an eyelid has been executed along with his brother, Liu Wei once one of China’s ten most wanted murderers.

So endeth one of the most embarrassing episodes in recent Australian corporate history that exposed the incompetence not just of FIRB but of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission as well.

It was very clear by stories published in the media and in publicly available information that Liu was a very questionable character, almost certainly a gangster. Much of this information was available using simple Internet searches. The directors of Sundance also appear to have wilfully ignored evidence relating to Liu Han’s company Hanlong and his own background, it seems they did little if any due diligence in their unseemly rush to unload the company. Shareholders and Australian citizens deserve better.

In the aftermath of the deal, five executives of Hanlong were caught insider trading by ASIC. It’s a crime committed with obvious and monotonous regularity on the Australian Securities Exchange, yet so very rarely does ASIC move. So ham-fisted were the efforts of the Hanlong crew that even plodding ASIC officials were forced to take action. But when they did they inexplicably allowed one of the accused, Stephen Xiao, to return to Hong Kong to seek medical treatment, Australia’s world renowned doctors apparently, were not good enough. To absolutely no one’s surprise, Xiao reneged on his promise to come back. Would any reasonable person?

But he was unlucky enough to be the victim of some rare karma when he was returned by Chinese police, clearly as part of the deal with he Australian Federal Police to help them track down Chinese officials shoveling ill-gotten gains and escaping the clutches of the ongoing anti –corruption purge inside the ruling Chinese Communist Party into Australia, via the previous Labor administration’s questionable $5 million buy-a-citizenship visa program and its Abbott government successor

It was this same campaign that swept up Liu Han. Only a few years earlier Liu had managed, perhaps corruptly, to obtain foreign investment approval from China’s National Development and Reform Commission, the top economic ministry which is now under heavy scrutiny from anti-corruption investigators. Already a number of its senior officials have gone down. It is to be hoped that FIRB has learned some lessons and is keeping a very close eye on these developments.

The AFP’s deal with Chinese authorities raises serious moral and ethical questions about whether Australia should be complicit in returning people to possible death by state execution a la the Liu brothers. The heavily Christian Abbott Cabinet – Julie Bishop is the only senior member who does not claim to be a practicing Christian – should take a good hard look in the mirror when such deals are done on their watch.

As Chinese investment in Australia continues apace, particularly by private individuals and companies, it remains unclear whether FIRB has learnt to use Google or are any better equipped to investigate Chinese  – or for that matter any other foreigners investing in Australia. The AFP is already under a cloud for its role in delivering the Bali Nine into the hands of Indonesian authorities and, in the case of at least two of that group, imminent death by firing squad. Perhaps Australians won’t care so much when a corrupt Chinese businessperson and perhaps his or her spouse are caught in Australia and returned to China, only to be executed by the government – but they should – it would mean Australia condones and is complicit in murder.

The Australian government, and its agencies needs to sharply, lift its game in understanding both foreign companies who want to invest in Australia as well as in  clarifying its position on sending people – Australians or foreign nationals – into situations where they could face state sanctioned murder.

Michael Sainsbury is a journalist who works out of Bangkok. This article was first published in his China blog on 9 February 2015. 

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