Brian Chen, who is accused of attempting to install a Chinese agent in a parliamentary seat in Canberra, also tried to take control of a biotech company in Australias Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) building by making a multimillion-dollar offer, according to reports.
CSIRO is an independent Australian federal government agency.
George Kopsidas, the chief executive of Melbourne-based biotechnology Imunexus, told The Age he was approached over the past two years by a company named Prospect Time International Investment, which offered to invest almost $10 million for a majority stake in his company and showed particular interest in leasing an “entire wing” in the CSIRO Parkville building.
Melbourne resident Chen, the chief executive of Prospect Time International Investment, was allegedly involved in a suspected espionage ring of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) which offered “a seven figure sum” to pay for a Melbourne luxury car dealer, Bo “Nick” Zhao, to run for a seat in Australias federal parliament.
The allegations were reported by Zhao to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), which on Sunday issued a statement saying an investigation was underway. Zhao was found dead in March in a Melbourne motel room.
Chen, the chief executive of Prospect Time, which promotes Chinas “Belt and Road” infrastructure initiative, has strongly denied any involvement with Chinese intelligence activities or knowing Zhao, however, sources have said the pair had been in contact, according to The Age.
Imunexuss founder, Kopsidas, said Chen approached the company—which researches and develops antibodies—in June 2017, when the startup had just landed second place in a biotechnology competition in Shenzhen.
While making his offer, Chen reportedly told Kopsidas he had financial backing worth “hundreds of millions,” which could help make Imunexuss products saleable.
“What Brian wanted to do was to start a full-on biotech company in Australia, a pharmaceutical company,” Kopsidas told The Age. “He wanted to develop products and take them into manufacturing and marketing and sales.”
Kopsias added that Chen wanted to lease out “a significant proportion” of the CSIRO building, which sparked security concerns among experts.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Alex Joske cautioned against a foreign-owned company sharing CSIROs premises.
“Its much easier to conduct scoping work from inside the building … where you can enter sections of the CSIRO facility without authorisation,” Joske told The Age.
After a data breach in 2013 was linked to a Chinese national, CSIRO has spent tens of millions of dollars to improve its cybersecurity systems.
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