Clive Palmer’s ‘neighbour’ in $4.5m mystery
A MYSTERIOUS Chinese woman being sought in Hong Kong to return $4.5 million she received from Clive Palmer is an Australian citizen who owns a house in Brisbane - directly next door to one owned by Mr Palmer.
A News Corp investigation has revealed that Zhenghong Zhang, now believed to be in mainland China, has much closer ties to Australia, and to Mr Palmer, than previously known.
Liquidators seeking to freeze Mr Palmer's assets after the collapse of Queensland Nickel are chasing Ms Zhenghong over $4.5m she received from Mr Palmer in late 2012, on the same day he paid out $1m to another enigmatic woman, Evgenia Bednova from Kyrgyzstan.
Mr Palmer, under cross-examination, gave scant detail about Ms Zhenghong when pressed to explain why he paid her such a huge amount.
Ms Zhenghong received $4.5m in two tranches. The larger amount, $4m, went to Ms Zhenghong's personal account in Beijing. The $500,000 went to her Commonwealth Bank account in Brisbane.
She owns a property in Tweedale St, Graceville, just a few kilometres from the centre of Brisbane. Palmer owns the property next door.
Ms Zhenghong, in her early 50s, has a brother in Brisbane, who is married with two daughters. He denied knowledge of her, and claimed he did not speak proper English. However, one of his daughters earlier confirmed Ms Zhenghong was her aunt and was "back in Asia".
Ms Zhenghong's brother accused News Corp of being "nosy" and threatened to call the police.
Both of the two-storey homes in Graceville were built simultaneously by around 2004.
The presumption is that Palmer gifted this house to Ms Zhenghong as a deeply trusted and valued confidante, however Mr Palmer would not comment.
Strangely, Ms Zhenghong's home has no letterbox. She is on the electoral roll, meaning she's an Australian citizen. But many Chinese, forbidden by their government from being dual citizens, never declare that they have become Australian citizens and keep two passports so they can travel between two worlds.
Numerous former colleagues of Palmer's, some with intimate knowledge of his daily business dealings, and some outright enemies, told News Corp they'd never met Ms Zhenghong or knew her only by rumour.
Neighbours still see flash cars coming and going from Ms Zhenghong's home, but she is long gone.
The PPB Advisory, appointed by the Commonwealth to recover money is paid to workers who were made redundant after Queensland Nickel folded, has commenced proceedings against Ms Zhenghong in Australia and Hong Kong but can't find her to serve papers.
They tried her last known business address in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange building, but no one there had heard of her.
News Corp followed the trail to an address in Beijing, the headquarters of Mr Palmer's flagship company, Mineralogy. The office is a low-rent affair in an anonymous office building in the Fangshan District, 30km from the city centre.
Room 504 carries no signage on the door. It contains a desk, a photocopier, some drawers, documents piled on the floor and a man named Yi Ning.
Mr Yi is there often. Neighbours have often heard him speaking in English down the phone line. Questioned if he knew Mr Palmer or Ms Zhenghong, he declined to comment.
Mr Yi and Ms Zhenghong are listed on the Chinese government's mandatory register of businesses as being the official representatives of Mineralogy. Mr Palmer is named as the chief representative.
On November 29, 2012, Mr Palmer ordered that a huge amount of cash from Queensland Nickel be launched in all directions - to family, friends, and to his own business empire. By the end of that day, $42,689,601 had been allegedly siphoned.
Ms Bednova received $1m for reasons that Mr Palmer, under cross-examination, could not precisely explain. It is known he paid $250,000 to fly her to Singapore in a chartered jet, where he was attending a conference.
Mr Palmer told a Federal Court hearing early last year that the money paid to Ms Zhenghong "wasn't money for her personal use or anything like that." He said it was for
"This person had been involved with the group since 1996 in the role as a translator-interpreter, a representative," he said. "And she carries official documents in China representing us in a major transaction."
Two days after News Corp visited her brother, unknown Chinese people were observed arriving and removing documents from Ms Zhenghong's garage in Tweedale St.
Neighbours said no one lived in the house. One said: "Expensive-looking cars go straight in the garage. Mercedes. It's really strange. It's like someone stays over once or twice and then they're gone."
No one could recall ever seeing Mr Palmer at the house he owns. An older neighbour, a keen observer of her surrounds, said she knew the Chinese woman as "Caroline".
"Caroline was very attractive, but not young. She had worked in Malaysia as an interpreter. She wasn't married. Her mum and dad came out from China. She went to the Chinese Methodist Church up on Oxley Rd," she said.
News Corp understands that Ms Zhenghong owned a silver BMW which Mr Palmer upgraded to a Mercedes - but that's not uncommon in Clive's world. He's known for his generosity when he's flush.
Ms Zhenghong was listed as a sole business trader on the Australian Business Register, but closed that in early 2013 - shortly after the Palmer payment, and when it appears she left Australia.
Cross-examined as to whether company records would give an explanation of what Ms Zhenghong did to justify her payment, Mr Palmer said: "I -I can't be sure." He was not certain whether the money was spent in China or "reallocated in subsequent years".
Mr Palmer said of Ms Zhenghong that "we had every confidence in this person being to carry out the task for us and our commercial benefit".
Mr Palmer once had big plans for China, including the Titanic II and the non-starter float of his company Resourcehouse on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
Mr Palmer's clashes with Chinese-owned CITIC over his Pilbara mine, which have ultimately ended in Mr Palmer's favour, appear to have caused him to change his deep admiration for China to describing it as a corrupt and murderous regimen.
Whether Ms Zhenghong will come home is unknown - as is the reason she was paid $4.5m. Was it for Mineralogy's operations in China? Was it for her? Or was it a way for Mr Palmer to stash cash offshore with a trusted person should things go wrong?
It is known that Clive Mensink, Mr Palmer's nephew, turned up in Hong Kong for a one-day visit mid last year, before again departing to places unknown.
Palmer declined a request for an interview. "I retired no interest in media," he texted.
A translation of Mineralogy's official government listing in China
Company name: (Mineralogy Pty Ltd. Beijing Representative Office)
Company type: Resident representative offices of foreign enterprises
Company registered identification number: 110000400169055
Date of registration: January 19, 2007
Date of approval: November 19, 2014
Date of expiration: January 18, 2019
Company status: Active
Chief representative: Clive Frederick Palmer
Official representative: Zhenghong ZHANG, Yi NING
Company address: Room 504, Building 2, No.1 Tianxing Street, Gongchen Street, Fangshan District, Beijing
Scope of business: Non-profit business activities related to foreign (regional) enterprises