“These are people I deal with regularly,” Mr Cheah said. “I have no reason not to trust them.”
Asked if he was “minimising any suggestion” that he was involved in illegality, Mr Cheah said: “I agree because I have not been involved in any illegality.”
The ICAC has heard allegations the source of the cash was billionaire developer Huang Xiangmo, who is banned from donating to political parties in NSW under laws targeting property developers. Mr Huang denies donating the money.
Mr Cheah has told the inquiry Mr Huang brought the cash into NSW Labor’s head office in Sussex Street in Sydney in a plastic Aldi shopping bag in April 2015.
He had previously given evidence that he knew Mr Huang was involved in property development at the time, but has since told the ICAC that this evidence was a “mistake”.
The inquiry has heard from a number of witnesses in the Chinese community who said they signed false donation declaration forms relating to the cash, and were subsequently urged by Mr Wong not to tell the truth to authorities. Mr Wong, who will return to the witness box later this week, denies any wrongdoing.
Mr Cheah said he was unaware at the time that fake donors had signed for the cash. He admitted at the ICAC on Tuesday it was “highly likely” he knew by December 2016 that Mr Huang was associated with property development.
Former NSW Labor treasurer Eric Roozendaal went to work for Mr Huang’s Yuhu Group in 2014. Counsel assisting the commission, Scott Robertson, put it to Mr Cheah that it was “a matter that was notorious in the press” at the time that this was a property development company.
Mr Cheah said he was more attuned to politics in 2014, including who would replace Mr Roozendaal in state Parliament. Mr Wong succeeded Mr Roozendaal in the state’s upper house.
Mr Cheah said that when he Googled Mr Huang “it came up with agriculture or something”.
Former NSW Labor Senator Sam Dastyari’s ties to Yuhu Group were also reported by the Herald in 2015. Asked if he knew “at least by March of 2015” that Mr Huang was associated with property development, Mr Cheah said: “No.”
He said he “could have” read this article but had no recollection of doing so.
Mr Cheah said he did not read a series of articles in the Herald in 2016 referring to Mr Huang, which he forwarded via email to a colleague in September that year.
An angry Mr Cheah said it was “a ridiculous inference” that he had read the articles based on the subject line of the email, which read: “Interesting articles”.
He said he had told the party’s former governance director, Julie Sibraa, in late 2016 that Mr Huang was the source of the money. Ms Sibraa, who now works for federal Labor MP Tony Burke, has denied that claim.
Asked why he did not confront Mr Wong in 2017, when the NSW Electoral Commission started looking into the donation, Mr Cheah said: “Maybe I put self-interest first, but I don’t want to be involved in anything that may be untoward.” He said asking questions would only “draw me in deeper”.
The inquiry continues.
Michaela Whitbourn is a legal affairs reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.