Australia releases prisoner convicted in China of fraud

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia has granted early release to an Australian businessman who was convicted in China of financial crimes and transferred home under a prisoner exchange agreement, an official said Wednesday.

Matthew Ng was the first of only two Australian citizens who have been able to come home to Australia under a 5-year-old prisoner swap deal with China.

Ng had applied for early release “based on his exceptional family circumstances,” Justice Minister Michael Keenan said.

“I am satisfied exceptional circumstances exist to justify Mr. Ng’s early release from prison,” Keenan said in a statement, without giving details.

Ng was arrested in Guangzhou in 2010 and sentenced the next year to 11 1/2 years in prison for fraud and bribery convictions related to a corporate takeover of a state-owned enterprise.

He was transferred to an Australian prison in November 2014 to serve out his sentence.

His lawyer Tom Lennox said he has filed applications for early release since early 2015 on various grounds, including a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and the disproportionate nature of the sentence for behavior that would not be criminal in Australia.

Lennox said he thinks the decline in the health of Ng’s Sydney-based wife Niki Chow in the last two months prompted the decision.

“His wife has been very unwell and he has a family in need of care,” Lennox said. “Matthew’s emotional, I’m emotional. We’re delighted with the minister’s decision.”

Ng was released from Sydney’s Silverwater Correctional Complex within hours of the minister’s announcement.

Soon after his release, Ng warned Australians against doing business in China.

“Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Because not only will you lose your money, you’ll lose your life and your family. And that is what happened to me,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“What they’ve done to me, they can do to anybody,” he added.

A Chinese Embassy spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Lennox described Ng as a political prisoner who had done nothing that would be considered illegal in Australia.

“It was a state enterprise in China that used the criminal justice system in China to both expropriate all of Matthew’s property and put him in jail,” Lennox said. “I think that meets the test of political prisoner.”

Lennox said the case was brought by a Guangzhou Communist Party official who objected to Ng’s travel company, GZL, taking over a state-owned enterprise.

With Ng in prison, the enterprise was returned to state control.