CANBERRA, Australia — An embattled Australian government minister resigned on Friday for breaching ministerial standards through a business trip to China, clearing the way for the prime minister to announce a final Cabinet reshuffle ahead of elections due this year.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said an investigation found Stuart Robert had breached the government's Code of Ministerial Standards through his 2014 trip to Beijing with a friend and donor to the ruling Liberal Party, Paul Marks. Marks made the trip to seal a mining deal between his company Nimrod Resources and Chinese government-owned Minmetals.
Minmetals' website said Robert, then assistant defense minister, spoke at the signing ceremony on behalf of the Australian Defense Department. But under questioning this week, Robert said he went to China as a private citizen while on leave.
Turnbull came under intense pressure this week in Parliament to fire Robert from his current roles as minister for veterans' affairs and minister for human services. The opposition accused Robert of breaching a section of the code of conduct that states a minister must not assist any company or business except in an official capacity as a minister.
Turnbull said Robert had discovered since the trip to China that he had shares in a company Metallum Holdings, which had an interest in Nimrod Resources.
"Mr. Robert recognized that this connection would create the impression that at the time he went to Beijing, he had something personally to gain from the Nimrod Resources project," Turnbull said in a statement.
It was also revealed this week that Robert was one of three lawmakers who were gifted Rolex watches by a Chinese businessman in 2013. The lawmakers initially kept them only because they thought the $28,000 timepieces were fake, the Herald Sun newspaper reported. But they returned the watches after discovering they were genuine.