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Mr Liu and his fake Australian passport
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Liu Tienan, when arrested, was said to have a false Australian passport, a ticket to Sydney and $2.2 million. Photo: Reuters
Shanghai |The Australian government is investigating claims a senior member of China’s ruling elite, who has been detained on corruption charges, held a fake Australian passport.

The case involves Liu Tienan, who was removed as deputy chairman of the all powerful National Development and Reform Commission in mid-May.

At the time of his arrest Mr Liu was reportedly carrying an Australian passport in a fake name, an airline ticket to Sydney and had $2.2 million in Australian currency.

In recent weeks China’s state media have divulged other salacious details including a string of mistresses and an extensive pornography collection.

Mr Liu, who was previously chairman of the National Energy Administration, was also reportedly found with $19 million across 25 bank accounts, more than 9 kilograms of gold bullion and 25 rare diamonds.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said on Monday it was aware of claims that Mr Liu was found in possession of an Australian passport in the name Liu Yaping.

However, it said there was no record of any passport being issued in either name and was “making further­ ­inquiries”.

“The prevention and detection of fraud against Australian passports is a key objective for the department,” a spokesperson said in a written response to questions.

Mr Liu is reportedly being investigated by China’s Communist Party for irregular approvals of almost 300 projects worth 34 billion yuan ($6.1 billion).

The case highlights how senior Chinese officials see Australia as a safe haven and often look to obtain a “blue passport” for themselves and their family. The official Xinhua newsagency said Mr Liu was a “moth” with nowhere to hide.

But before his downfall Mr Liu sat near the very top of China’s complicated bureaucratic structure. He was the second-ranked official at the NDRC, the country’s top economic planning agency responsible for everything from foreign investment to power tariffs and infrastructure development, and also a key contact point for foreign governments dealing with China.

He was also the country’s top energy official.

His contact with Australia was extensive. Sources have told The Australian Financial Review he helped negotiate the $25 billion gas supply deal between China and Woodside, which helped bring the North West Shelf into production and at the time was Australia’s largest single export deal.

Mr Liu was also an important player in the iron ore trade between Australia and China.

He is among the highest-profile victims of President Xi Jinping’s recent pledge to “swat” both flies and tigers in a major crackdown on official corruption as part of a new more competitive economic policy.

As is often the way, Mr Liu was brought down by a jilted lover.

Accusations of corruption were first made public by a journalist on his Sina Weibo account – China’s version of Twitter – in December.

Mr Liu’s Japanese-based mistress told the journalist how her former lover had colluded with a businessman and held a fake degree.

The posting, which quickly went viral, was initially denied by the NDRC and Xinhua in a media report.

But in March Mr Liu was stood down as chairman of the National Energy Administration and in May removed from his position at the NDRC.

He is now being held by the Central Disciplinary Inspection Committee, which is headed by Politburo standing committee member Wang Qishan.

He was detained for “serious disciplinary violations”, a common euphemism for corruption.

Hong Kong’s Chinese language media first reported on Mr Liu’s wealth and fake passports. The details were then picked up by state media on the mainland.

It was reported that Mr Liu carried his Australian passport with him at all times. He also reportedly carried a Canadian passport issued in another name.

DFAT said it would “vigorously prosecute” any cases of passport fraud, adding that penalties included up to 10 years in prison and $110,000 in fines.

“We have a range of controls in place to ensure that genuine Australian passports are issued only to Australian citizens, and we work closely with border agencies in Australia and overseas to prevent and detect the misuse of Australian passports.”

The case of Mr Liu has captivated China’s army of social media bloggers as every new detail emerges.

According to media reports, Mr Liu was detained at 11pm on May 11 with his wife, after hosting an anti-corruption conference that day.

Other assets accumulated by his family include five properties, a share portfolio worth 133 million yuan ($24 million), nine expensive watches and a valuable art collection.

He was reported to have 12 different passports, but only carried his Australian and Canadian passports with him at all times as well as airline tickets to Sydney and Toronto, via Hong Kong.

In October 2010, The Sydney Morning Herald reported on a young Chinese couple wanting to bulldoze a $32 million harbourside mansion in Point Piper.

It later turned out that the property was owned by the son and daughter-in-law of Beijing power-broker Zeng Qinghong.

He was the chief political organiser behind former president Jiang Zemin and more recently was credited with installing Xi Jinping as the country’s top leader.

Only when the SMH report was picked up by social media in China was the connection made and questions raised about how the couple were in a position to buy such a house in Sydney’s most expensive suburb.

Former intelligence officer Warren Reed said it was difficult for agencies to keep tabs on high profile Chinese nationals as their names could be easily be tweaked when they were changed from Mandarin characters into the roman alphabet.

“It’s a nightmare for the [intelligence] agencies,” said Mr Reed, who previously worked at the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.

“It’s really a hairy period we are entering and the problem is only going to get worse.”

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The Australian Financial Review