A Chinese court jailed an Australian businessman for 13 years on bribery and embezzlement charges yesterday, the Australian Foreign Ministry said, in a case that has drawn top level government interest.
Matthew Ng (吳植輝), who was an executive working for travel services group Et-China in southern China at the time of his arrest in November last year, was likely to appeal the sentence, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.
“He has been sentenced to 13 years,” a ministry spokeswoman said. “He was found guilty on charges related to embezzlement and bribery.”
“The Australian government understands Matthew Ng intends to appeal,” she added.
Ng was charged late last year, two weeks after he was detained by police in Guangzhou on suspicion of “misappropriating company assets.”
Chinese media have said the case against Ng relates to his role in Et-China’s battle with a -Guangzhou City Government-owned travel company for control of domestic travel agency GZL, one of the largest in southern China.
Ng reportedly told the judge presiding over his case at the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court that he had been sacrificed for a larger game.
“We are the sacrificial objects of this case,” Ng and Et-China chief executive Zheng Hong (鄭烘) told Judge He Chunzhu, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
The sentence, which had not been expected to be delivered yesterday, shocked Ng’s wife Niki Chow, with whom he has three young children.
“Thirteen years for Matthew, I don’t think he can take it,” she told the paper from Guangzhou. “Thirteen years. He was shocked, very shocked, nobody expected the verdict would be today.”
The Australian newspaper said that Ng was sentenced to a total of 14-and-a half years — eight for embezzlement, two for corruption, two-and-a-half years for a false capital declaration, and two for bribery.
However, the judge made a “mercy” call and reduced the sentence by one-and-a-half years.
Ng’s arrest came 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 early last year on bribery and trade secrets charges.
Hu’s trial strained relations between Beijing and Canberra, and stoked concerns among foreign investors about the rule of law in China, Australia’s top trading partner and a keen consumer of its minerals.
Ng’s plight has been discussed by Australian and Chinese leaders, with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard raising the subject during a meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) in Beijing in April.
“We have made clear to Chinese authorities our strong interest in Mr Ng’s case,” the ministry spokeswoman said yesterday.
Consular officials last visited Ng on Nov. 18 and officials would continue to provide assistance to his family, she said.
When Hu was handed his 10-year sentence, Canberra described the punishment as “very tough” and called China’s decision to close part of the trial “very regrettable,” adding that Beijing had missed a chance to clarify its commercial secrets laws.
Ng helped found Et-China in 2000 and previously worked as an investment banker in Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia.