A former Fairfax journalist being sued for defamation has said he had only intended to raise the strong suspicion that the Chinese-Australian billionaire Chau Chak Wing had bribed the UN president.
“I thought it was probably true but it was not my purpose to be prosecution, judge and jury,” John Garnaut told the federal court in Sydney on Thursday.
He was giving evidence in Chau’s defamation action against him and Fairfax Media over an online story published in October 2015.
The businessman, philanthropist and political donor says the article conveys four defamatory meanings including that he bribed former UN president John Ashe and was part of a plot to bribe him.
His lawyers also allege it suggested that Chau acted in so seriously wrong a manner as to deserve extradition to the United States on criminal charges and that he created his Australian business empire by making illicit payments to government officials.
Garnaut, who is now a private consultant but at the time was Fairfax’s Asia Pacific editor, testified that he took great care to not convey those meanings in his story.
“I took great care to write it as a possibility not as an actual fact,” he said.
In relation to the fourth alleged meaning, Garnaut said he did not believe Chau had a business empire in Australia.
“He may have given away more money in Australia than he made,” he said.
The article was published after US prosecutors accused businesswoman Sheri Yan and her finance chief Heidi Park of arranging for a bribe to be paid in 2013 to Ashe who had appeared at a function at Chau’s Guangzhou resort.
Garnaut said he came to believe that a co-conspirator referred to as CC-3 was Chau who “on the face of it was the alleged bribe giver”.
In investigating the story, he spoke to Yan’s husband, Roger Uren, who told him his wife would never do anything she believed to be illegal or improper.
Uren also told him Chau had paid $US200,000 to Ashe as a speaking fee and Uren didn’t believe it was a bribe.
The hearing continues before Justice Michael Wigney.