Maggie Kim, who also goes by the name Young Kim, is the founder of Sunflower International, a mysterious business migration consultancy firm that pairs sellers of Australian companies with Chinese buyers and offers access to exclusive events.
Electoral Commission of Queensland records show the NSW-based Ms Kim made her most recent $10,000 donation to the Liberal National Party in November 2018, making her one of the largest individual donors in the country.
That injection was less than a month before laws banning foreign donations came into force and a year after the legislation was introduced to Parliament, when Labor ruled out taking any further donations.
Prior to her $20,000 donation in December 2017, she had never previously made a contribution. She said she continues to donate $20,000 a year to charity events in China, where she spends half the year.
Ms Kim said the events were often attended by officers from the Chinese Communist Party, but she was not a member of the party herself.
In the Chinese language version of her Australian company website profile, Ms Kim wrote that she received “extensive respect” from the Minister for Home Affairs. When approached to explain, she said this was a reference to the United Kingdom, the embassy she says she worked for in Beijing.
In the English language version of the website, it says she is “widely respected by Home office ministers”.
Sunflower International guarantees a 100 per cent success rate for Australian applications and offers invitations to Victoria Secret shows, charity dinners with Victoria Beckham and access to internships for the children of clients with the UN’s Global Sustainability summit. It shares a suite in a Sydney CBD block with seven other businesses.
Ms Kim said she was asked for “a favour” to donate to the Liberal National Party and contributed an extra $10,000 on November 2, just five days before the Coalition moved the second reading of the bill banning foreign donations. Ms Kim confirmed she was not an Australian citizen or permanent resident.
She declined to identify the Coalition party members who approached her for the donations but said they had both her local and Chinese phone numbers.
“I only met them once,” she said. “They just said they had a campaign and they were looking for entrepreneurs to donate.”
She said those who solicited the extra $10,000 donation over the phone a year later gave her little information about the foreign donation laws. “I heard if I have a company in Australia then I can donate,” she said.
Under the law which passed three weeks after Ms Kim’s second donation, the Commonwealth Electoral Act offers no exemptions for foreigners who have companies in Australia but who are not citizens or residents. It establishes civil and criminal penalties for parties receiving prohibited foreign donations and not subsequently taking “acceptable action” in relation to the donation.
The Coalition campaign referred questions to the Liberal National Party. The LNP said it “always complies with what it understands to be its legal obligations in regards to fundraising.”
The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age are not suggesting any wrongful conduct on the part of Ms Kim or the Liberal National Party.
Joo-Cheong Tham, the director of the Electoral Regulation Research Network at Melbourne University, said the donation indicated an “an apparent inconsistency” on the part of the federal Liberal Party in initiating the ban on foreign political donations.
“It is not so much the foreigners as the commercial motivations that is underpinning the contributions,” Professor Tham said. “The concern would be that these are gaining access and influence to decisions makers.”
Eryk Bagshaw is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.