Man guilty of foreign influence asks to be spared jail

Tara Cosoleto |

Di Sanh Duong was found guilty of preparing for or planning an act of foreign interference.
Di Sanh Duong was found guilty of preparing for or planning an act of foreign interference.

A businessman who used a hospital donation to try to gain influence over a federal minister has asked a judge not to send him to prison. 

A Victorian County Court jury in December found Di Sanh Duong, 68, guilty of preparing for or planning an act of foreign interference. 

He was the first person to be charged under federal laws created in 2018. 

Dong presenting a novelty cheque at the hospital (file image)
Duong (2nd right) arranged for Alan Tudge (left) to receive a $37,450 donation for a hospital. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

Prosecutors argued Duong tried to cultivate a relationship with then-federal multicultural affairs minister Alan Tudge on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party. 

He did so by arranging for Mr Tudge to receive a $37,450 donation on behalf of the Royal Melbourne Hospital, money he had raised as president of Oceania Federation of Chinese Organisations. 

Duong started collecting the funds for COVID-19 supplies like gloves and masks to be exported from China, but he was unable to secure shipment and instead handed over a cheque.

Prosecutor Patrick Doyle SC said the Chinese Communist Party would have seen Duong, a former Victorian Liberal Party candidate, as “an ideal target” to work as an agent for its United Front Work Department.

Duong also told an associate he was building a relationship with Mr Tudge, who “will be the prime minister in the future”. 

Mr Tudge’s office organised a media opportunity where a novelty cheque was handed over at the hospital in June 2020.

Alan Tudge leaves the County Court (file image)
Mr Tudge was only contacted much later in the picture, Duong’s barrister said. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)

During a pre-sentence hearing on Wednesday, Duong’s barrister David Carolan submitted the donation was predominantly an act of charity. 

There was no direct planning or tasking from the Chinese Communist Party and Mr Tudge was only contacted much later in the picture, Mr Carolan said.

A recognisance release order, or a suspended jail term, with no immediate term of imprisonment was the appropriate sentence, Mr Carolan said.

He pointed to Duong’s age, his lack of prior convictions and his good character, noting he had spent decades helping the community since he came to Australia as a refugee in 1980. 

“There is an outstanding history of community work,” Mr Carolan told the court.

But Mr Doyle submitted Duong’s good character gave him access to Mr Tudge and allowed him to commit the offending.

Di Sanh Duong (file image)
Duong’s offending lacked sophistication or planning, the court was told. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)

Specific and general deterrence were key sentencing factors because foreign interference was “insidious” and hard to detect, Mr Doyle said. 

“(Duong) has absorbed the United Front system and methodology,” the prosecutor said.

But Mr Carolan argued specific deterrence was not important because Duong was already “outed” so he could not seek out more politicians or other people of influence.

His offending was also at the lower end of the scale because it lacked sophistication or planning, Mr Carolan said.

Judge Richard Maidment said he was still considering whether an immediate jail term was needed.  

He extended Duong’s bail to a February 29 hearing but warned the 68-year-old not to make assumptions about his sentence.