Sam Dastyari reveals how Chinese billionaire wooed our pollies
THE first time former Labor senator Sam Dastyari met with billionaire Huang Xiangmo, he expected a dinner in a packed restaurant.
Instead the then-28-year-old new Labor general secretary was stunned to find the Chinese donor - now believed stranded in Hong Kong after authorities stripped him of his permanent Australian residency - his translator and himself the sole occupants of the Dixon St eatery.
It was just part of the array of sophisticated, incremental and covert techniques by the suspected Chinese Communist Party agent of influence and political donor to court politicians and which resulted in millions flowing to both major Australian parties.
Mr Dastyari, whose career was destroyed by his relationship with Mr Huang has revealed how the billionaire relied on his cult of celebrity to court Australian politicians.
The account comes amid reports Australian authorities have rejected Mr Huang's citizenship application and cancelled his permanent residency after years of political intrigue over links to the Chinese Communist Party.
Mr Huang has donated millions to both major parties as well as individual MPs through Federal Electorate Conferences (FECs) for years.
His money was even funnelled to individual MPs' campaigns via head office without some of those members even knowing.
Mr Dastyari's downfall came after going against his own party's policy by backing China's South China Sea policy and reports that he invited Mr Huang outside of his Mosman mansion to avoid being recorded on surveillance.
While Mr Dastyari denied the surveillance allegations, he said he took full responsibility for his relationship with Mr Huang, adding that both parties had pursued the billionaire for donations.
He said Mr Huang built trust and respect in political circles with cash, links to business, donations to charities and his standing in the Chinese community.
"The first private (meeting) I had with Huang Xiangmo was when the warning bells should have gone off. It was like nothing before or since," Mr Dastyari said.
"A private restaurant in Dixon Street in Sydney's Chinatown. It had no name. No signage. Just a room. A private venue that you needed to be a member of to attend. But in it here was just three people - me, his translator and him. I would have been 28 or so.
"A newly minted General Secretary of the Labor Party in NSW. He had just booked out an entire restaurant to have dinner with me. I was vain. Arrogant. Thought I was special."
And so began the incremental building of a relationship that saw millions in donations flow to the Labor Party, Mr Huang even paying one of Mr Dastyari's legal bills, and the rising NSW senator ultimately accused of being a traitor to Australia.
Mr Dastyari said Mr Huang was like a "celebrity" in Sydney's Chinatown, and boasted a mixture of fame and business success that made him more powerful in his community than "a Frank Lowy, James Packer or Harry Triguboff combined".
"He had a mixture of personal charm and charisma and also the fact that he came to Australia with an incredible amount of wealth that was being splashed around at a charity level a community level and a political level."
He said he believes now that Mr Huang was trying to court both him and the party, but going through that realisation was brutal and painful.
Speaking of their last meeting, in which Mr Dastyari has been reported repeatedly to have invited Mr Huang into the backyard of his Mosman mansion so that they would not be recorded, the former senator described the encounter as a "breakup".
Mr Dastyari disputes that he tried to avoid surveillance and told The Daily Telegraph authorities never spoke to him about Mr Huang.
Both sides of politics now face questions over whether they should return the donations.
When Western Australian Liberal MP Andrew Hastie traced where his funding had come from last year, he returned a $10,000 donation from Mr Huang.
Mr Dastyari said the foreign donation ban did not solve the problem because "there are loopholes you can drive a truck through".
"There is an arms race for donations between the parties. And when you've got individuals like Huang who are prepared to fork out millions of dollars they get listened to," he said.
He said the only way to remove foreign influence was to impose a cap on donations.
Carr denies China donor dramas an institute issue
Former NSW Labor Premier Bob Carr has hit out at suggestions that the Australia-China Relations Institute, which was founded with a $1.8 million gift from Huang Xiangmo, has been in any way compromised by the donation.
Carr, who has been director of ACRI since its founding in 2014, has in recent years been a sharp critic of "Australian Cold Warriors" and "China hawks" who he claims have been spreading unnecessary fear about China's rise and attempts by the Chinese Communist Party to influence local politics.
Speaking last year after revelations Sam Dastyari had backed in Beijing's position regarding disputed islands in the South China Sea, Carr said the former Labor senator's words were "ill-advised" but said it was not clear that "he attempted to push a pro-China orientation".
Carr has also said that he hasn't seen any evidence of a pattern of Chinese attempts to buy influence in Australian politics, telling Sky News last year: "If China was seeking to swamp Australian political parties with money surely there would have been a pattern of donations." ACRI was founded with donations from two wealthy Chinese entrepreneurs, one of whom was Mr Huang, and says on its website it aims to present an "optimistic view of Australia-China relations". In a statement, Carr said he has regularly criticised the Chinese government's behaviour and added that he will be retiring from ACRI in 2019, as announced last October.