A federal politician says the death of a 32-year-old man and its potential links to an alleged plot to infiltrate Australia’s parliament with a foreign spy needs to be fully investigated.
Nine’s 60 Minutes program aired the claims on Sunday, citing sources with knowledge of the plot, where Melbourne car dealer ‘Nick’ Zhao, 32, was allegedly cultivated by the Chinese government to run as a Liberal Party candidate.
Mr Zhao allegedly told Australia’s counter-espionage agency ASIO about the deal.
He was then reportedly found dead in a Melbourne hotel room in March.
Melbourne car dealer ‘Nick’ Zhao (pictured), 32, was reportedly found dead in a Melbourne hotel room in March
Federal Liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie says he was briefed on Mr Zhao’s death as chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security.
‘It was surreal, it was like something out of a spy novel happening in Melbourne with impunity,’ he told Nine.
Mr Hastie says Australians should be ‘very concerned’ about the alleged plot.
‘This isn’t just cash in a bag, given for favours, this is a state-sponsored attempt to infiltrate our parliament,’ he said.
‘Using an Australian citizen and basically run them as an agent of foreign influence in our democratic system. So this is really significant and Australians should be very, very concerned about this.’
Mr Hastie has called for a full investigation into Mr Zhao’s death.
‘Everyone should be concerned about the way that Nick Zhao died and I think we need a full investigation where we turn over every stone,’ he said.
‘We explore every nook and cranny, we cast as much light into the shadows and make sure that we have a full comprehensive understanding of how he died and why he died.’
The revelation of the alleged plot comes after 60 Minutes aired the claims of self-proclaimed Chinese spy Wang ‘William’ Liqiang.
Nine newspapers reported Mr Wang has provided ASIO with details of how China’s senior military intelligence officers fund and conduct political interference operations in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia.
Shanghai police claim Wang ‘William’ Liqiang, who served as one of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) intelligence operatives, is a convicted fraudster.
Mr Hastie called on the government to protect Mr Wang, who is seeking asylum in Australia.
‘I have personally been involved and participated in a series of espionage activities,’ Mr Wang said in a statement to ASIO in October, Nine said.
However, Reuters reports that police in Shanghai said Mr Wang was a 26-year-old unemployed man from the eastern province of Fujian and was wanted in connection with a fraud case.
On April 10, he went to Hong Kong carrying a fraudulent Chinese passport and Hong Kong permanent residency card, they added in a brief statement.
Mr Wang had previously been convicted of fraud in 2016 in Fujian, Shanghai police said.
Wang ‘William’ Liqiang, 27, served as a Chinese intelligence operative since 2014, before defecting to Australia earlier this year
Mr Wang is at an undisclosed location in Sydney on a tourist visa, telling Nine he is seeking urgent protection from the Australian government, a plea he says he has made in multiple meetings with ASIO.
Mr Hastie told Nine on Sunday that anyone willing to assist Australia in defending its sovereignty ‘deserves protection’.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said his colleague was entitled to his views but it is now in the hands of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
‘I won’t comment on specifics of an ASIO operational matter,’ Mr Frydenberg told ABC television on Sunday.
Labor Leader Anthony Albanese reiterated that he believed Mr Wang has a case for Australian protection.
He has asked for a full briefing this week from the appropriate authorities.
‘But the prima facie case is there that he certainly has a claim. And that should be considered in a way that takes into account the merits of the case,’ he told reporters in Melbourne.
Since coming to power, President Xi Jinping has invested heavily in the People’s Liberation Army Navy in a bid to project Chinese influence across the Pacific and beyond
Mr Wang said he became involved in the covert operation after landing a job at investment company China Innovation Investment Limited (CIIL) in Hong Kong, run by CEO Xin Xiang.
At the time, he believed he was doing a service to his country as a patriot, as opposed to being a spy, he said.
His five-year stint working for one of the world’s most powerful regimes came to an end after he was ordered to give up his identity to work as a spy in Taiwan ahead of its 2020 election.
Mr Wang had grappled with the idea of devoting his life to espionage work after arriving in Sydney earlier this year to visit his son and wife, who is studying at university.
Months into his trip, he decided to meet with a member of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
The Chinese spy was a part of a highly-elaborate scheme to fight pro-democracy movements, in Taiwan and Hong Kong, filtrating local media and even student networks. Pictured protesters rally against the extradition bill in Hong Kong in June
Since then, Mr Wang has passed on undisclosed information to ASIO, but admitted his defection means he will have to live in fear of retribution from his native country for the rest of his life.
‘I know very well that the Chinese Communist Party can never be trusted. Once I go back, I will be dead,’ he said.
Since coming to power, President Xi Jinping has invested heavily in the People’s Liberation Army Navy in a bid to project Chinese influence across the Pacific and beyond.
The defector’s bombshell interview, which will air on 60 Minutes on Sunday, comes a day after retired ASIO chief Duncan Lewis accused the Chinese government of using ‘insidious’ foreign interference operations to ‘take over’ Australia’s political system.