Source The Age: Melissa Fyfe and Royce Millar February 14, 2013
LORD mayor Robert Doyle received tens of thousands of dollars from donors connected to a property developer with big plans for Melbourne’s skyline, yet the official donation list obscures the businessman’s links to raising money for Cr Doyle’s re-election campaign.
A Fairfax Media investigation of Team Doyle’s campaign funding has thrown doubt on a number of donors and revealed apparent breaches of the Local Government Act, with the official donation list containing misleading information, wrong names, wrong addresses and the non-disclosure of the members of a trust.
One of Victoria’s most experienced local government lawyers, Terry Bramham, described the Team Doyle official list, or return, as ”curious”.
”You have a number of individuals from far-flung places with no clear connection to the City of Melbourne making substantial donations,” said Mr Bramham, of Macquarie Lawyers. ”Why would they be doing that?”
Mr Bramham said the questions raised by Fairfax Media were sufficient to justify an official investigation into city council campaign funding last year.
The most notable transparency problem is the connection between Chinese-born Jeff Xu – a developer and entrepreneur who has pushed for the fast-tracking of high-density development in Melbourne – and donors named Yif Yufu and Amy Meng Li.
Neither Mr Xu nor the companies he is publicly associated with are listed on the official return. The five Team Doyle councillors would therefore be unlikely to declare a conflict of interest when voting on applications from his many city business interests.
But Fairfax Media has found that although Yif Yufu appears to be a person, the actual donor of $15,000 to Cr Doyle was Australian Yifu Investment Development Pty Ltd, which Mr Xu part-owns through his company J. Xu Nominees.
Amy Meng Li, who lives in Maribyrnong and confirmed to Fairfax Media that she has no other business interests in the city, gave $8000 to Cr Doyle. She is an accountant for Dahu Nominees, of which Mr Xu is sole director and only shareholder. Ms Li said her donation to Cr Doyle was an individual decision, not on behalf of Dahu. She refused to comment further.
Last year Fairfax Media revealed a property developer’s claims that Cr Doyle’s No.1 council candidate, Kevin Louey, had asked developers for tens of thousands of dollars in donations in return for access to Town Hall. In the wake of these articles, Mr Xu denied being asked to donate to the Doyle campaign or having promised financial support. The cash-for-access claims are being investigated by the Local Government Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate.
Mr Xu on Wednesday refused to comment when asked if he had donated to city council candidates.
The Fairfax Media investigation also found:
?Thousands of dollars were donated by people living in modest flats in Clayton South, Chadstone, Box Hill and Maribyrnong with no obvious link to the City of Melbourne.
?Donations to Team Doyle from the property industry were more than half – $200,000 – of Cr Doyle’s $380,000 declared re-election war chest.
?Despite legal requirements to name the trustees of any donating trust, Team Doyle failed to name the trustees of the Sydney-based Heng Xing Family Trust, which donated $20,000. Council candidates who received this money could be penalised as much as $40,000.
?Team Doyle member Kevin Louey’s return listed the Guangdong Association of Australia as donating $1000. But the Guangdong Association of Australia Inc has confirmed it did not donate. The Guangdong Overseas Friendship Association of Australia’s secretary, Tony (Yuan Hui) Du, said a member, a woman friendly with Mr Louey, had wanted to hide her donation from her husband. ”She asked if she could use the name of the association,” said Mr Du.
?Donor David Ting, who gave $2500 to Team Doyle, does not live at the Box Hill address provided on the return.
?Accountant Jian (Ken) Huang and his wife, Samantha To, are listed as contributing $5000. But Mr Huang said he believed their donation was actually $10,000.
Mr Xu is building a Sheraton hotel in Little Collins Street and the Emerald apartments in South Melbourne. He owns the Rainbow entertainment complex in Bourke Street and has an interest in a string of central city restaurants.
In its previous term, the Doyle council supported the 32-level Sheraton project and an extension of Mr Xu’s karaoke club’s licensing hours from 1 am to 4am. The extension was granted despite a ban on new liquor licences in the city beyond 1am.
Confidential minutes from an internal licensing committee reveals that throughout 2012 Cr Louey attended meetings – not usually attended by councillors – at which Mr Xu’s licensing application was considered.
In December Fairfax Media reported that the city council could be denied a say on key city building projects, with a majority of councillors conflicted by donations from active developers.
Cr Doyle spoke to Fairfax Media on Wednesday on several occasions, criticising decisions by Planning Minister Matthew Guy, but did not return numerous calls for this story.
Cr Louey told Fairfax Media that the name Yif Yufu did not ”ring a bell”, nor did he know David Ting. Cr Louey then ended the interview. Team Doyle councillor Arron Wood said he did not know any of the donors. Team Doyle councillors Beverley Pinder and Susan Riley did not return calls.