Brian Chen

Alleged investor in Portugal accused of being Chinese spy in Australia

Brian Chen is suspected of funding the election of a federal deputy in Australia. In Portugal there has been promised an investment of millions, but nothing has progressed, despite remaining linked to four Portuguese companies. 

Less than a year ago Macau Business reported a strange investment of Chinese capital in Portugal, which promised millions but went bankrupt a few months later. 

The company in question – Prospect Time International – is based in Kowloon and announced several investments in Portugal (Alentejo region), reaching 1.8 billion euros (approx. MOP16 billion). 

The owner of this same company has just been accused of being behind “a Chinese espionage ring” who is trying “to install an agent for Beijing in a seat in Australia’s Federal Parliament”. 

On the basis of the accusations are revelations made by a Chinese defector, Wang Liqiang, who said to the Camberra authorities he had worked as a spy in Hong Kong and Taiwan. 

From these revelations, the Australian intelligence services came to the conclusion that “the suspected Chinese intelligence group offered a million dollars to pay for the political campaign of Liberal Party member and Melbourne luxury car dealer Bo ‘Nick’ Zhao, 32, to run for an eastern suburbs seat. The plot appears to be part of an operation to place a Chinese agent in Parliament,” according to a journalistic investigation by Australian media outlets The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes. 

A few days after the journalistic revelations, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) director-general of security Mike Burgess issued a statement entitled “Foreign interference”, saying ASIO “takes seriously” the allegations reported by the journalists about Mr Zhao. 

From the deserter’s allegations, ASIO questioned Mr Zhao and he identified the man who, according to him, approached him, Brian Chen. 

Brian Chen (Chinese name Chen Chunsheng) is the CEO of Prospect Time International, and who met with several mayors of Portugal, where he promised these millions of investment. 

The investigation of The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes also reveals that Mr Chen has denied knowing Mr Zhao or being involved in Chinese intelligence activities. “However, sources say Australian authorities have determined that Mr Chen had been in contact with Mr Zhao.” 

However, last March, Mr Zhao was found dead in a Melbourne motel room. Nobody has said how he died. “There is no suggestion that Mr Chen has any knowledge or involvement in Mr Zhao’s death,” state the journalists. 

“Where is the investment of the Chinese?” 

One of the authors of the article was in contact with Macau Business in the weeks before the story was published. 

He sought to learn more about the caricatural details surrounding Prospect Time International’s entry into Portugal. 

Despite our willingness to cooperate, unfortunately it was not possible to find out much more: none of the various promised investments advanced, nor did the Hong Kong-based company give signs of life. 

On the contrary, it erased from its website all references to Portugal, which ranged from several photographs of the investment promises to the office address of the delegation in Portugal. 

At this time, there is no reference to this investment intent; although Brian Chen remains linked to four small companies based in Portugal. 

Two of the companies are in the real estate area, one is dedicated to solar energy and the fourth (Prosperscenery – Culture and Travel) presents itself as providing consulting services. 

Brian Chen is the managing partner of the four and, although he has both Portuguese and Hong Kong partners, he has full control of the companies. 

“The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes have confirmed from multiple Western security sources that Mr [Brian] Chen is a suspected senior Chinese intelligence operative” 

In common is the fact that the four companies have no known activity, either because they were created about a year and a half ago or because their share capital is very small (varies between MOP50,000 and MOP100,000). 

Still, Macau Business learned that one of the four, Joint Yeld Investments, was incorporated less and moved to Lisbon less than a year ago (this was Brian Chen’s last administrative act in Portugal). 

The chairman of one of the political parties in the district where he was promised a major investment, Portalegre, asked in June “where is the investment of the Chinese”? 

A very sensitive and uncomfortable subject 

“The suspected plot to fund Mr Zhao’s campaign would be the clearest example of Chinese government foreign interference ever detailed in a Western country, and provides some insight into the scale and nature of the threat that ASIO has labelled ‘unprecedented’ but which has never been publicly explained in detail,” stated The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes. 

Those media outlets also have “confirmed from multiple Western security sources that Mr Chen is a suspected senior Chinese intelligence operative, a claim Mr Chen has confirmed was put to him by Australian officials at Melbourne airport in March but which he vehemently denies.” 

There is no indication that Brian Chen’s interests in Portugal could be related to these allegations. 

On the other hand, the Portuguese secret services do not make public statements, so no comment could be obtained. 

Still, from the many contacts made by Macau Business to sources linked to the secret services, we understand at least that it can be understood as a very sensitive and uncomfortable subject. 

“Hong Kong and Chinese corporate records reveal Mr Chen runs several companies involved in the military, public security and energy sectors and his business partners include firms linked to the Chinese government,” state the journalists. 

Already the investments announced for Portugal between 2017 and 2018 were mainly in real estate and tourism, which contrasts with the areas promoted by Prospect Time on its website. 

Wang Liqiang

“How Beijing’s spies are infiltrating Hong Kong’s democracy movement” 

It all started with the revelations that emerged with the defection to Australia of a man claiming to be a Chinese spy. 

The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes said that Wang Liqiang, who allegedly was an intelligence operative, “claimed the Chinese government used front companies and influence campaigns to infiltrate Hong Kong’s independence movement, organise kidnappings and assaults on democracy activists and interfered in Taiwan’s elections.” 

The report also “has given previously unheard details about the kidnapping of five booksellers from Hong Kong and their rendition to the Chinese mainland.” 

According to the journalists, “his testimony shows how Beijing’s spies are infiltrating Hong Kong’s democracy movement, manipulating Taiwan’s elections and operating with impunity in Australia.”