Fri, Dec 03, 2010 - Page 11 News List

China charges Australian CEO with embezzlement

AFP, SYDNEY

The Australian boss of a travel company based in southern China has been charged with embezzlement, foreign ministry officials in Canberra said yesterday, stressing their “strong interest” in his case.

Et-China (易網通) chief executive Matthew Ng (吳植輝) was formally charged on Tuesday, a foreign office spokeswoman said, two weeks after he was detained in the southern city of Guangzhou on suspicion of “misappropriating company assets.”

“The Australian Government is monitoring developments closely to ensure due legal process is followed,” the spokeswoman said.

“The Australian consulate-general in Guangzhou has raised the Australian government’s strong interest in the case at senior levels of the Guangdong [provincial] government,” she added.

Police in Guangzhou said in a statement that the case against the 44-year-old Ng was still under investigation.

Ng’s case comes just months after four employees of Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto, including Australian passport-holder Stern Hu (胡士泰), were jailed in China on bribery and trade secrets charges.

The spokeswoman stressed that Ng’s charges “relate to embezzlement and are very different to the ones faced by Mr Hu, which related to bribery and theft of commercial secrets.”

Hu’s trial strained relations between Beijing and Canberra, and stoked concerns about the rule of law in China.

Consular officials had visited Ng last month and would see him again on Dec. 7, the spokeswoman said, adding that officials would “continue to monitor his welfare.”

Chinese media have said Ng’s detention could be linked to his role in Et-China’s acquisition of domestic travel agency GZL (廣之旅), one of the largest leisure travel companies in southern China.

Et-China was reportedly involved in a legal battle with Lingnan Group (嶺南集團), a Guangzhou government-owned travel company, over control of GZL.

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