SYDNEY (AP) — Australia's former prime minister and two other politicians were gifted designer watches by a Chinese businessman — but initially kept them only because they thought the 40,000 Australian dollar ($28,000) timepieces were fake, a newspaper reported Wednesday.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was leader of the then-opposition Liberal Party in 2013 when he and fellow Liberal lawmakers Stuart Robert and Ian Macfarlane received the luxury watches during a dinner with a representative of China's Li Guancheng Investment Group, Macfarlane told the Herald Sun newspaper. Macfarlane told the paper the watch-giver's name was "Mr. Li," believed to be Chinese billionaire Li Ruipeng.
"It's quite a tale," Macfarlane said. "It was an informal dinner and at the end of it, he pulls these watches out of a plastic bag."
None of the politicians realized they had each been given a pricey gift, Macfarlane said.
"They came out of a plastic bag from China. We thought they were fakes," Macfarlane said.
He declared the gift on his official Parliament register after looking up fake Rolexes on the Internet and seeing they were worth AU$300 to AU$500. But it wasn't until last year that a fellow lawmaker, who owns a Rolex, spotted Macfarlane's watch and said he thought it was genuine. After having it evaluated in September, Macfarlane was told its real worth.
"I thought, 'What to do?'" he said.
The clerk of the House of Representatives told him because the watch was on his register, he would be allowed to keep it. But he decided to return the watch to the company in China, and informed Abbott and Robert theirs were the real deal. Both Robert's and Abbott's offices said the lawmakers had returned theirs as well.
"There was no way in hell I'd keep a watch worth that," Macfarlane said.