SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian entrepreneur convicted of financial crimes in China and transferred to Australia to serve the remainder of his 11-1/2-year sentence is being granted early release, Australia’s justice minister said on Wednesday.
Matthew Ng was found guilty of fraud and bribery over a business dispute in 2011 and served almost four years in a Chinese prison before being transferred to Australia in 2014.
Australian Justice Minister Michael Keenan said that Ng, who was eligible for parole in August but still had about six years left on his sentence, was being granted early release based on exceptional family circumstances.
Ng’s teenage daughter died while he was in jail and his wife is seriously ill, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported. Keenan said that he was satisfied that Ng’s situation met the criteria for an early release.
“Mr Ng applied for early release from prison based on his exceptional family circumstances,” Keenan said in a statement.
“The application was made in accordance with Australian laws, which allow for the early release of a prisoner where there are exceptional circumstances.”
A spokeswoman for Keenan told Reuters Ng had not yet been released but that “we anticipate that will happen very shortly.”
Neither Ng nor his lawyer, Tom Lennox, could immediately be reached by Reuters for comment.
Ng’s supporters have labeled him Australia’s first Chinese political prisoner over the circumstances of his arrest and conviction in China, which followed his successful acquisition of a Chinese state-owned enterprise.
During preparations to list the company on the London Stock Exchange, Ng allegedly became embroiled in a fierce dispute with the company he had bought, which maintained close ties with China’s Communist Party-led government.
Ng was tried in a closed court in southern China and convicted of fraud and bribery.
Ng’s transfer to Australia, negotiated by former Australian prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, was the first of its kind between the two countries and interpreted as a sign of warming ties.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday the transfer was based on a specific pact with Australia.
“We hope Australia can earnestly implement and appropriately handle the issue according to this agreement and the mutual understanding reached by both sides,” ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing.
Additional reporting by Michael Martina in BEIJING Editing by Nick Macfie and Clarence Fernandez