On Tuesday, an Australian court made history by registering the initial conviction under the nation’s foreign interference laws. A jury found a Vietnamese refugee guilty of clandestinely collaborating with the Chinese Communist Party, marking a significant legal development in this regard.
A Victoria state County Court jury convicted Melbourne businessman and local community leader Di Sanh Duong on a charge of preparing for or planning an act of foreign interference.
He is the first person to be charged under federal laws created in 2018 that ban covert foreign interference in domestic politics and make industrial espionage for a foreign power a crime. The laws offended Australia’s most important trading partner, China, and accelerated a deterioration in bilateral relations.
Duong, 68, had pleaded not guilty. He was released on bail after his conviction and will return to court in February to be sentenced. He faces a potential 10-year prison sentence.
Prosecutors had argued that Duong planned to gain political influence in 2020 by cultivating a relationship with the then-government minister Alan Tudge on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.
Duong did so by arranging for Tudge to receive a 37,450 Australian dollar (then equivalent to $25,800) in a novelty check donation raised by community organizations for a Melbourne hospital.
Prosecutor Patrick Doyle told the jury the Chinese Communist Party would have seen Duong as an “ideal target” to work as its agent.
“A main goal of this system is to win over friends for the Chinese Communist Party, it involves generating sympathy for the party and its policies,” Doyle told the jury.
Doyle said Duong told an associate he was building a relationship with Tudge, who “will be the prime minister in the future” and would become a “supporter/patron for us.”
Duong’s lawyer Peter Chadwick said the donation was a genuine attempt to help frontline health workers during the pandemic and combat anti-China sentiment.
“The fear of COVID hung like a dark cloud over the Chinese community in Melbourne,” Chadwick told the jury.
“It’s against this backdrop that Mr. Duong and other ethnic Chinese members of our community decided that they wanted to do something to change these unfair perceptions,” Chadwick said.