Chinese-Australian billionaire Chau Chak Wing has told a Sydney judge his reputation was seriously damaged by a 2015 Fairfax Media online article that “is saying I was a criminal”.
“I never expected in Australia, being a country with such a strong legal system, that this kind of thing could happen,” Chau said on Tuesday in the federal court.
The businessman, philanthropist and political donor was giving evidence through an interpreter at his defamation lawsuit against Fairfax and journalist John Garnaut over the 16 October article.
Chau’s barrister, Bruce McClintock SC, said the article conveyed four defamatory meanings, including that Chau bribed former UN president John Ashe and was part of a plot to bribe him.
The other imputations were that Chau acted in so seriously wrong a manner as to deserve extradition to the US on criminal charges and that he created his Australian business empire by making illicit payments to government officials, the barrister said.
McClintock referred to the “extraordinary haste” with which the article was put together after Garnaut appeared to feel he had been “gazumped” by a Daily Telegraph story published on 15 October.
But James Hmelnitsky SC, for Fairfax and Garnaut, described the online article as “good journalism”.
“We make no bones about the fact that this is a hard-hitting article directed to Mr Chau and would be understood to damage his reputation because it contains a serious allegation that he is a suspect in a bribery scandal,” Hmelnitsky said.
But he denied that the article insinuated “actual guilt”, saying it suggested Chau was “suspected” of being involved in the scandal.
His clients were not running the defence of truth, but were submitting that the publication was reasonable in the circumstances, Hmelnitsky said.
Chau testified he was born in poverty in 1949 in China, became an Australian citizen about 20 years ago and lived in a property in Sydney’s Vaucluse, which he bought from James Packer in 2016.
He also testified that his company, Kingold, employed about 10,000 people, he lived in Australia for about three months of the year and had donated millions of dollars to institutions including the University of Technology Sydney, which had named its business school building after him.
When the Fairfax article was first translated for him, he became “very upset”, he told the court, believing it made him out to be a criminal, though he had never done anything illegal in China or Australia.
“This was a big strike, a big hit on me and it caused big harm to me,” Chau said.
The hearing continues.