Hey there! Thanks for dropping by Theme Preview! Take a look around
and grab the RSS feed to stay updated. See you around!

Matthew Ng in Sydney. Photo: Louie Douvis Matthew Ng with his four children before he was jailed in China.

Matthew Ng with his daughter Isabella in London 2010. Isabella died while her father was in jail.

Matthew Ng arriving at the Guangdong Supreme Court in 2012. Photo: Sanghee Liu

Matthew Ng celebrates his release with his lawyer, Tom Lennox (left) and friends from his days studying at the Australian Graduate School of Management, David Marquard and Ken Wagner. Photo: Janie Barrett

Early release ends Matthew Ng’s jail nightmareJailed Australian businessman Matthew Ng loses wife, children and isn’t told about the death of his oldest daughter for two yearsMatthew Ng transferred from China to Australia to serve out sentenceNg breaks down as one charge dropped

Beijing: It was late on a sultry autumn evening when Matthew Ng was paid a visit by a trusted source from within the Guangzhou city government. His tone was urgent, and given recent events, it was clear Ng’s livelihood was at stake.

“He told me to leave my phone and electronic gadgets at home, take a walk with him at midnight,” Ng recalls. “It was like a Jason Bourne movie. Only after we walked for 10 minutes from my house did he then start to talk.”

As the two men paced along the bank of Guangzhou’s winding Pearl River, lined with lush banyan trees and futuristic skyscrapers, Ng was told in no uncertain terms that he should leave China immediately should he wish to remain a free man. It was September 2010, the city government had already detained his travel company’s Chinese chairman and two office administration staff, and he was next.

“I didn’t want to believe that,” Ng says. “I said: ‘Look, you know, I’m Australian, I’ve done nothing wrong, I’m the CEO of a listed company. I don’t think they want to touch me’.”

Ng would ultimately be proved drastically wrong, in what he describes as his “fatal mistake”. The high-flying Australian entrepreneur and former banker had built up a travel business worth hundreds of millions of dollars in the southern Chinese metropolis only to lose it all.

State-backed minority shareholder, Lingnan Group, wrested control of Ng’s company by accusing the Australian of bribery and misappropriation of funds through China’s Communist Party-controlled judiciary. He was ultimately sentenced to 11 and a half years’ jail, serving more than four years in Guangzhou before securing a prison transfer to Australia in late 2014.

It was only after he was transferred to a minimum-security NSW jail that he found out he had lost much more than his business empire. His eldest daughter, Isabella, had died of a depression-related eating disorder, aged 14, while Ng was incarcerated in China. His family had kept the news from him, fearing it would irreversibly crush his spirit to survive.

“I think so,” Ng says when asked if it was the right call. “If they told me back when I was in China, I don’t think I could have walked out of there alive.”

The Australian government released Ng on compassionate grounds last month, weeks before he was due to be eligible for parole.

An enduring frustration for Ng has been the blase attitude of other Australians thinking of doing business in China and their assumption the same couldn’t happen to them.

While admitting to remaining fragile and still adjusting to life outside prison, Ng has decided to speak to selected Australian news outlets, including Fairfax Media, for his first lengthy media interviews since his release, for this very reason.

“People focus more on the human tragedy aspect but don’t talk about how if you go to China to do business, how you can lose everything,” Ng says, speaking from the teleconference room of his lawyer’s Sydney offices.

“Unfortunately there are so many people in Australia they just say ‘oh you’ve been unlucky, you must have pissed off someone’. And they think they’ll be luckier than me.”

Ng moved from China to New Zealand when he was 19 to study at university, subsequently moving to Sydney to complete a Masters of Business Administration at UNSW. He became an unabashedly ambitious investment banker who, after stints in Sydney, New Zealand and Malaysia, decided to set his sights on China in 1999.

“I went to China to make money, to make tonnes of money,” he says. “It was in pursuit of the blue sky, the big promise that China has to offer.”

Then still in his early thirties, he was drawn to the mainland when news of one of China’s biggest websites being listed for $US1 billion in New York flashed up on his Bloomberg terminal.

By the time he arrived, however, he found “every man and his dog from the Silicon Valley” already there, sniffing out similar deals. Undeterred, he decided to launch an e-commerce travel portal, and became one of the earliest platforms selling air tickets online in China. With an exclusive joint venture with China Southern Airlines, his company Et-China would soon earn fast-growing name recognition in southern China, and were for a while seen as competitors to Shanghai-based Ctrip, which dominates China’s online travel market today.

Guangdong’s travel industry, however, was decimated by the outbreak of SARS in 2002. State-owned travel tour operator GZL was bleeding money and struggling to pay interest on its loans. The city government put a 28.75 per cent stake in GZL out on a public tender, and invited Ng to participate.

He paid 55 million yuan ($11 million) for the stake, a 53 per cent premium on the government’s valuation.

“People automatically assume that if you’re successful in China you have to do things the Chinese way, he must have done something unethical or illegal to get caught,” he tells Fairfax Media.

“This is not a backroom deal. It is not a ‘one-night at the karaoke’ deal.”

The complications arose after Ng moved to acquire the shares of some 200 GZL employees to gain majority control of the company in 2006 and 2007, which Ng insists was done in a transparent and legal manner.

It was in 2010, after clinching a deal to sell the company to Swiss firm Kuoni, when state-owned minority shareholder Lingnan “panicked”, essentially developing seller’s remorse because “they realised that [the] GZL they sold to me or allowed me to control five years ago had become so valuable.

“It is well known my investment cost is something like $US10 million at the time; when I sold it to Kuoni it was valued at around $US130 million.”

When strong-arm attempts for Ng to sell back his shares at his original purchase cost were rebuffed, Lingnan told the city government that Ng had bribed company chairman Hong Zhen to convince the other employees to sell their shares. Ng was also charged with misappropriating 83 million yuan despite the fact the amounts were clearly stipulated as intra-company loans.

After his midnight rendezvous with his government source, Ng did quietly cross the border into Hong Kong to lie low for a few weeks, turning off his phone and booking hotel rooms and train tickets using his wife’s credit card in an attempt to avoid surveillance.

Eventually, he returned, confident that any case Lingnan mounted could not hold water.

“I was so complacent when I dealt with Lingnan when I met them for the last time [in November 2010],” Ng says. “I said let’s go to court, I wasn’t going to buckle their demands. I was thinking in a western way and that was the fatal mistake.” He was detained five days later.

While in jail in Guangzhou, a crestfallen Ng summoned all his reserves to stay positive. He would focus on small incremental three-month goals, however small they seemed in his hope for freedom. A meeting with Australian consular officials, a letter in the mail, or an extra phone call for the month.

In an overcrowded block where more than 400 prisoners shared an outdoor recreation area the size of half a basketball court, Ng took to doing push-ups and sit-ups on his bunk each night before lights-out to stay healthy.

After more than five years behind bars, Ng’s reaction to being told he would walk free was simple: “I cried.”

But the Australian diplomatic calculus was also laid bare in how it has sought to frame its decision to grant Ng early conditional release due to “exceptional family circumstances”, namely the sharp deterioration in the health of his wife, Niki Chow, who has long battled cancer, and the death of his teenage daughter.

The Australian government is at pains to stress it is these exceptional and truly tragic circumstances which prompted their decision, rather than any indictment on China’s judicial processes, for fear it could anger Beijing and jeopardise future transfers under the International Transfer of Prisoners Act. This is despite the treaty clearly stating that the Attorney-General has discretion to “adapt” the duration of a transferee’s sentence so it is consistent with Australian sovereign law. By agreeing to a prisoner transfer, China is explicitly agreeing that Australian sovereign law applies once they set foot in Australia.

In reality, across the negotiating table, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade may well be right in believing that China could take a sour view of future prison transfers, regardless of what is written into the prisoner transfer treaty.

It is not the first time DFAT has tailored its advice to China’s whim, to the detriment of transparency and freedom of the press. The department advised another wronged Australian businessman in China, Du Zuying, to keep his story out of the press (He has since been freed).

Same too, has been the advice for families of the Australians stranded in Guangzhou jail on drug trafficking charges, who say they have been scammed online by sophisticated international drug syndicates. The implication being that China would react badly to press coverage and order its judicial system to come down even harder on those accused.

Ng himself is insistent that he would not be where he is today if he was not in the media spotlight, urging the Rudd-Gillard governments of the time to raise his case with China’s leaders.

“It is fair to say that without the media focus on my case I [wouldn’t have got] out of China,” he told Fairfax Media in a telephone interview immediately after his release. “I may not even be alive.”

Ng says he wants to make clear that it remains “very, very important” to him that he continues to petition the Australian government to grant him a full pardon.

“This would be a final anointment that I was falsely imprisoned for a crime I did not commit,” he says.

“Of course I’m mindful of the relationship between Australian and China and the FTA and the [prisoners’ transfer treaty] but I think most Australians will take the view that if someone has been falsely or unjustly imprisoned overseas and there is ample evidence of this being a miscarriage of justice then our government should be strong enough to put things right.”

As well as making up for lost time with his children and family, Ng is now writing a book on his experiences and is eager to get back into banking. He has plans to launch a fund, leveraging his particularly intimate knowledge of the hidden risks lurking behind doing business in China.

“When I arrived in Australia in 1992, I had $10,000 in my pocket and no MBA,” he says. “I’m now almost 50, and I have got some unique experience, arguably I’ve got some more financial resources and definitely more contacts.

“I think I can do it again.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on 苏州美甲美睫培训学校.


Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.