OCCRP: Chinese Communist Party-Backed Businessman in Fiji is a Top Australian Criminal Target

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?? Chinese Communist Party-Backed Businessman in Fiji is a Top Australian Criminal Target

? Background: The Pacific region has become a key staging ground in the rivalry between China and the West. And the battle for influence isn’t only carried out by state actors.

Often, Beijing will use prominent members of the diaspora to push Chinese interests overseas, under a strategy it calls the “United Front.” In Fiji, China-born businessman Zhao Fugang is openly part of this soft power operation. Zhao has held leading positions for groups that are part of the Chinese Communist Party, and even headed a Fiji-based organization that advocates for the “reunification” of Taiwan with China.

? The Revelation: But aside from his political work, OCCRP and partners have obtained documents showing that Australian officials have accused Zhao of being a senior organized crime figure — and they want Fiji to move against him.

The Accusations Against Zhao: Australian authorities claim he’s a senior member of a syndicate involved in drug smuggling, money laundering, and human trafficking. There is no record of Zhao ever being charged in Australia or elsewhere and he denies any wrongdoing.

? Australia Appears Determined: While Australian authorities have not publicized any evidence against Zhao, documents obtained by reporters indicate they’re serious about targeting him.

Australia’s top criminal intelligence body even took the extraordinary step of adding Zhao to its registry of Australian Priority Organization Targets in mid-2023. 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.”

? Drug Smuggling Via Fiji: Australia’s suspicions about Zhao’s alleged criminal connections also come amid mounting concern over a rise in drug trafficking through Fiji, which sits between Latin America and deep-pocketed buyers in Australia and New Zealand. A Fijian narco route was investigated by OCCRP last year.

? The State-Mob Connection: Experts say that China has a track record in using “patriotic” organized crime figures as proxies abroad.

“If you can find people that are successful business people and involved in criminal activities, then they’re often your most effective vectors in-country, because they know people and they’re willing to do the stuff that the state doesn’t want to do.” — Graeme Smith, the Australian National University.

If the accusations against Zhao are true, it would not be the first time Beijing has relied on organized crime figures to advance its interests in the Pacific. In 2022, we revealed the ties between the Chinese government and a notorious triad leader in Palau.

? Our Data and Sources: This investigation is primarily based on documents that circulated among law enforcement agencies and interviews with Australian, U.S., and Fijian security officials.

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