Peter Dutton caught up in Chinese citizenship scandal
HOME Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is facing questions after it emerged Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo paid a former Liberal minister at least $10,000 to meet with him.
It comes months after Mr Huang's Australian residency was revoked and his bid for citizenship knocked back after ASIO raised concerns about his ties with the Chinese Communist Party.
ABC and Nine Newspapers report Mr Huang paid former Liberal minister turned lobbyist Santo Santoro at least $10,000 to arrange a one-on-one meeting with Mr Dutton, the then-immigration minister, in March 2016.
The meeting reportedly took place at Master Ken's seafood restaurant in Sydney's Chinatown. Just Mr Huang, Mr Dutton and the minister's senior staffer were at the meeting.
Mr Huang reportedly reached out to Mr Santoro after his bid for citizenship stalled.
A secret recording of Mr Santoro claiming Mr Dutton was one of his "best friends" and requesting payment "upfront" to set up a meeting has been leaked to Nine and the ABC.
"There is nobody else anywhere who is better placed than me to help you through this particular part of the project. Nobody," Mr Santoro can be heard claiming.
"I can go to somebody in the Minister's office and say 'can you have a close look at this," he says.
He also claims Mr Dutton is "the most honest politician that I have ever come across" but also that he "tries to be helpful" if a "capability or a critical mass of investments" comes into Australia.
Mr Santoro can be heard saying: "If I am going to be doing the work and going to Canberra with a copy of the visa application and hand it over to somebody and say, 'Can you help?', no, no, I want to get paid, and get paid upfront."
In January 2015, the ABC says Mr Huang's family was also allowed to have a private citizenship ceremony inside former Labor Senator Sam Dastyari's office, after then-Immigration Minister Peter Dutton approved a request from Mr Dastyari.
"Peter Dutton needs to be held accountable for what happened here," Mr Dastyari said.
"I thought there was a snowflake's chance in hell that this was going to get approved and the pace and speed of which it got approved at the time surprised me, and in hindsight concerns me."
Mr Dastyari resigned in 2017 in disgrace over his own dealings with Mr Huang.
Mr Dutton told the ABC and Nine in a statement that Mr Huang "has never made a donation to my campaign" and that he had been introduced to the billionaire as "a leader in the Sydney Chinese community and had lunch with him on that basis".
"I have certainty never made representations on his behalf to the Department or anyone else," Mr Dutton said.
The minister added: "Mr Dastyari will need to answer questions around his request for a citizenship ceremony."
Mr Santoro confirmed Mr Huang's lunch with Mr Dutton had taken place but told Nine and the ABC the meeting hadn't been designed to give the businessman direct access to Mr Dutton.
The former Queensland senator also denied offering to help Mr Huang with his citizenship application.
He also would not reveal why he was paid by Mr Huang for at least a year beyond saying it was to "assist him to understand Australian politics".
A spokesman for Mr Huang told Nine and the ABC he had dealt with Mr Santoro for "advice regarding business" including "development of the volcano area in Sicily, Italy".
- with AAP