The Chinese owner of the Port of Darwin is using the port as security to seek a $500 million loan from the Chinese government’s trade bank.Private Chinese company
Landbridge is seeking the loan from the Chinese government’s Export-Import Bank (EXIM) to prop up the firm’s ailing Australian operations, which include an $880,000 yearly consulting fee to former trade minister Andrew Robb.
The revelation of the firm’s EXIM dealings raises fresh questions about Landbridge’s Chinese Communist Party ties and what happens in the event of a loan default.
The NT government told Fairfax Media that it had been briefed by Landbridge on its efforts to secure funding from EXIM.
A government spokeswoman said the NT government had the power to retain control of the port in the event of a loan default and that the Foreign Investment Review Board could also step in.
The prospective EXIM loan also suggests that the former Australian trade minister’s $73,000 monthly consulting payment (including GST) from Landbridge may be indirectly funded by the Chinese government’s trade bank.
New details have also emerged about Mr Robb’s confidential consulting agreement with Landbridge. This agreement states that Mr Robb will be paid to act as a consultant via a company called “Andrew Robb Pty Ltd” from July 1, 2016.
But company records reveal that Andrew Robb Pty Ltd was not created until August 8, 2016. Andrew Robb Pty Ltd’s bank account was paid $73,000 for consulting over the entire month of July, but this payment did not occur until late September. This was a few weeks after Landbridge announced his appointment on September 2.
Mr Robb has declined to answer specific questions about when he negotiated his consulting deal with Landbridge and what work he has provided. But in a broad statement, he said he had acted in accordance with his obligations as former trade minister.
Ye Cheng, of Landbridge, and then trade minister Andrew Robb in 2015.
Ye Cheng, of Landbridge, and then trade minister Andrew Robb in 2015. Glenn Campbell
Mr Robb’s consulting deal with Landbridge is one of several relationships between large Chinese companies and Australian ex-politicians that have been scrutinised by Australia’s security services, who are concerned that Beijing may be trying to exert influence in Australia via a small number of Chinese firms.
Efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to exert influence in Australia have become the subject of intense debate in Canberra, following a joint Fairfax Media and Four Corners investigation into Beijing’s foreign interference campaign.
On Wednesday, Attorney General George Brandis said he was “leading reform to our espionage and foreign interference and bribery laws to ensure that the kind of behaviour that the Four Corners program reported is properly dealt with by our criminal law.”
“I’ve asked my officials with whom I’ve been meeting as recently as this morning to come back with a comprehensive body of reforms learning from, for example, the American criminal law about foreign interference and subversion.”
US President Barrack Obama complained he hadn’t been forewarned of the acquisition of the port, which is near a US …
US President Barrack Obama complained he hadn’t been forewarned of the acquisition of the port, which is near a US marine hub. Facebook
Mr Brandis said “comprehensive reform of espionage and foreign interference law in Australia…will be introduced into the Parliament later this year”.
Fairfax Media and the ABC have confirmed that Darwin port leasee Landbridge Infrastructure Australia has had confidential discussions with officials from EXIM bank about securing a $500 million loan.
The state owned bank is under the direct control of the Chinese government’s state council. Its mandate includes promoting Beijing’s policy objectives, including the One Belt One Road project.
It’s understood EXIM officials have visited the Darwin port, while the Northern Territory government has confirmed in a statement that Landbridge has briefed it on its dealings with EXIM.
“Decisions relating to program funding are commercial decisions for Landbridge, however the NT Government is aware that Landbridge has considered third party finance options, including approaches to a range of Australian and Chinese banks (including EXIM),” the NT government statement said.
Landbridge said in a statement: “Landbridge is investigating a range of commercial funding options for Darwin Port including both domestic Australian and Chinese banks. The Northern Territory government is fully aware of and supportive of these discussions.”
Landbridge, which is owned by Chinese billionaire Ye Cheng, is seeking funds to plug a significant shortfall to build a luxury hotel and business park in Darwin.
The port lease is among Landbridge’s few valuable assets in Australia and it is understood EXIM has been examining detailed financial information about the port’s operation. In May, Landbridge’s other major Australian asset, resource company Westside, reported a $6.65 million loss in 2015-16 financial year.