Chinese-born nationals associated with a $5 million Tasmanian property were helped in their bid to get permanent residency visas by the Tasmanian government before the Australian Federal Police seized the property over alleged money laundering.
The 1473-hectare property Icena Estate at Musselroe Bay was seized by the AFP in October 2019 from Resort Development Tasmania.
"The AFP alleges that the two Chinese nationals moved about $23 million of fraudulently obtained funds from China since late 2012 with the proceeds of crime used to purchase or redevelop properties in Melbourne and Tasmania," an AFP media release said.
It is understood some of the Chinese-born nationals associated with RDT received authorised Australian visas despite a proposed $185 million development at Icena Estate never going ahead.
A document obtained by The Examiner reveals in February 2014, state government representatives met then directors of Melbourne Resort Development, later known as RDT which proposed the development at Musselroe Bay.
MRD personnel in the meeting were Hui Qian (also known as Aaron Li, the owner of the company's shares) and then directors Xiuhong Fan and Chengwu Wang and a fourth attendee was Eva Wu.
The Chinese nationals were later nominated through the Significant Business History Stream-Business Talent (permanent) (subclass 132), the Tasmanian Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Arts has confirmed.
While the state government went ahead with the visa nominations, the Icena Estate development did not.
Liberal Senator Eric Abetz said the failure of the Icena Estate development called into serious question the probity of the visas considering they were predicated on significant investment into the country and the people involved must be nominated by an Australian state or territory government.
"Foreign ownership and foreign business investment in Australia must be scrutinised to the highest degree. For too long we've simply encouraged the flow of foreign business money without asking questions, as the Cambria Green debacle demonstrates."
Cambria Green is a $100 million development proposed near Swansea by a Chinese-linked company.
"Tasmania needs investment that delivers on our terms and doesn't serve foreigners first," Senator Abetz said.
The Tasmanian government provided nominations for 40 Chinese nationals between 2014 and 2019 under the Significant Business History Stream visas, information obtained by The Examiner under the Right to Information Act in 2020 revealed.
"We cannot provide information that may reasonably identify individuals that have applied for state visa nomination," a spokesperson said.
"Noting the previous information released to you on October 6, 2020, in response to your RTI application, providing further specific information would reasonably allow the identification of individuals."
The purpose of the 2014 meeting was "to establish the appropriate category and process for the imminent immigration of Chinese nationals into Australia".
Notes of the meeting confirmed Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Arts personnel met the MRD group to discuss state sponsorship of Chinese nationals.
"As the state government welcomes the Musselroe Bay Development Project and the significant investment into the state this will be a simple process and will be approved within 10 working days," the document says.
The document indicates the Significant Business History Stream Business Talent (Permanent) (subclass 132) visa was the appropriate category to facilitate the immigration of Chinese nationals.
The visa allows people to stay in Australia permanently, bring family members and establish a new or develop an existing business in Australia.
To qualify a person must have assets of $1.5 million and a business turnover of $3 million.
Importantly, a person seeking a 132 visa must be nominated by an Australian state or territory government before a decision is made by the Federal Department of Home Affairs.
The process for approval of the visa was stated as taking a minimum of 12 months.
"The department will require individual interviews with applicants after the assessment of applications. All processing for Chinese nationals is done in Hong Kong," the document said.
"The 132 visa will then be issued and after 24 months there will be a review of investment activity.
"If investment has not been adequate ie. $1.5 million investment each individual and demonstrated management responsibility in the investment business the visa may be terminated."
The meeting noted Mr Qian "holds a 163 visa which would be suspended once the 132 visa was granted".
"An alternative for Mr Qian is to apply for the 892 visa which is the second stage to 163 and grants permanency.
"Although the Victorian government has provided state sponsorship for Mr Qian, the Tasmanian government would be happy to sponsor Mr Qian for the second stage if he chooses to go through the 892 visa pathway.''
A Department of Home Affairs spokesperson said: "The department does not comment on individual cases".
However, a spokesperson confirmed that under the Business Talent (subclass 132) visas may be subject to visa cancellation under Section 134 of the Migration Act under the following circumstances:
The Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Arts spokesperson said the department provided comments to the Department of Home Affairs during the post-visa grant monitoring process.
"To fulfil this request the department sought evidence that the investment plans of specific visa recipients were progressing and advised that we were satisfied with the progress being made at the time," the spokesman said.
Mr Qian's company RDT agreed to sell the Icena property in 2018 to another Chinese-born businessman's company DCF Musselroe Bay Pty Ltd before the AFP seizure.
Under an order by a Victorian County Court Judge the property can be transferred with Foreign Investment Review Board approval and other conditions.
The Department of Home Affairs said the subclass 132 visa was closed to new applications from July 1, 2021.
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