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Chinese businessman in Fiji under watch for suspected role in crime rings


Zhao Fugang. Photo courtesy of Nine/OCCRP

By Pacific Island Times News Staff


A Chinese-born businessman in Fiji is under watch by Australian authorities on suspicion that he operating an international crime syndicate believed to be sanctioned by the Chinese government, according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.


Zhao Fugang, a naturalized Fijian citizen who runs property development and tourism-related businesses in Suva, was added to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s registry of Australian Priority Organization Targets in mid-2023, OCCRP reported.


“The list of priority targets is secret and includes about a dozen top suspected criminals, typically based abroad, who are deemed to be 'the most significant threats facing Australia,'" according to OCCRP's report released today.


Zhao was the first known political operative to have been added to the list, and is an acknowledgment of China’s employment of organized criminal networks as proxies to push its interests in the Pacific, according to John Coyne, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

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“This is the beginning of a journey to really look inside to identify… what else is happening across the Pacific in terms of this interference, how else are we seeing that sort of merging or graying the line between organized crime figures and also people who are working for the Chinese government,” Coyne told OCCRP.


OCCRP, a consortium of global media groups specializing in investigative journalism, said its reporters reviewed official documents and conducted interviews with Australian, U.S. and Fijian security officials.


“The businessman’s role is typical of Beijing’s steady efforts to build its footprint in the Pacific islands. The ruling Chinese Communist Party often uses prominent members of the overseas diaspora as proxies to push Chinese interests, under a strategy it calls the “United Front,’” OCCRP said.

 

China’s embassy in Suva declined to answer questions about Zhao and referred the OCCRP to local officials.


Zhao owns the Yue Lai Hotel, which according to the report serves as the headquarters for his business empire, hosts the Chinese embassy’s official functions and houses an official “service center” for Chinese citizens.


“In secret, Australian law enforcement and intelligence agencies believe that Zhao is not merely a businessman or political operative. They suspect he is also a senior organized crime figure — and they’re pushing Fiji to move against him,” OCCRP said.


Since 2021, Australian authorities have suspected that Zhao is a senior member of a transnational syndicate that has been active in the region for decades and “likely has good access to corrupt officials,” according to one document.


The syndicate is allegedly involved in crimes including human trafficking, money laundering, and the large-scale flow of drugs to Australia. Its senior members have a “demonstrated ability to coordinate their operations in the region,” OCCRP said, citing an unspecified document.


OCCRP said Zhao has never been charged in Australia with any crime, nor have authorities made their suspicions public. Their suspicions are not evidence that he is involved in organized crime but only present grounds to suspect that he might be.


Inclusion on the list of Australian Priority Organization Targets is based on intelligence and is not proof of wrongdoing.


"The list is circulated among Australia’s main law enforcement agencies as part of a strategy to use the full force of the government to take apart the most complex and tough transnational criminal networks," OCCRP said.





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