A key political fundraiser for former prime minister Tony Abbott has maintained contact with Chinese Communist Party-aligned businessman Huang Xiangmo, despite warnings from ASIO to Mr Abbott about the billionaire donor.
Mr Huang has sought to get Abbott confidant and Liberal party heavyweight, John Caputo, to intervene in his citizenship application, according to a well-placed source.
The revelation comes as the controversy over foreign interference in Australian affairs continues to grow, more than a week after a Fairfax Media and Four Corners investigation exposed efforts by China's Communist Party to exert influence through political donations.
In a heated question time on Wednesday, the government and opposition traded blows over Chinese donations, with Foreign Affairs minister Julie Bishop urging Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to request a security briefing on the relationship between his senior frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon and his Chinese-Australian benefactor Helen Liu, after Fairfax Media revealed Ms Liu's ties to a senior Chinese intelligence operative.
Mr Huang, whose citizenship application has stalled while it is investigated by intelligence agency ASIO, developed a relationship with Mr Caputo after Mr Huang became one of the Liberal Party's biggest NSW donors in the lead up to the 2013 election.
Mr Huang and his close associates have given at least $1.1 million to the Liberals in recent years.
In 2015, Mr Abbott was briefed by ASIO chief Duncan Lewis about the agency's concerns that Mr Huang's close ties with the Chinese Communist Party might mean his donations could be used to advance Beijing's interests.
Fairfax Media has confirmed that in the months after this briefing Mr Caputo, a president of the Liberal Party's Brookvale and Allambie branch and a former vice-president of Mr Abbott's Warringah federal electorate conference and head of fundraising in Warringah for the 2016 election campaign, had discussions with Mr Huang about the Chinese-born businessman's concerns his citizenship application had stalled.
When Mr Caputo was pressed by Fairfax Media a fortnight ago on the extent of his dealings with Mr Huang, and his involvement in the donor's citizenship application, Mr Caputo said he wished to consider the questions before making any comment.
A day later, he sent a text stating: "I don't want to comment."
Mr Caputo failed to respond to a further attempt on Wednesday to get him to discuss his dealings with Mr Huang.
Fairfax Media has also quizzed Mr Abbott about whether Mr Caputo had raised Mr Huang's stalled citizenship application with him.
Mr Abbott did not answer the question directly. A spokesman instead replied with a written statement:
"John Caputo is a longstanding and active member of the Liberal Party with whom Mr Abbott is in regular contact with."
Mr Abbott's spokesman also said the former prime minister could not recall if Mr Huang had ever personally sought Mr Abbott to assist with his immigration case.
"On the handful of occasions Mr Abbott has met Mr Huang - who resides in his electorate - he has no recollection of Mr Huang raising the matter of his citizenship with him," the spokesman said.
However, Mr Abbott's spokesman explicitly denied that Mr Abbott ever lobbied Immigration Minister Peter Dutton about Mr Huang's case.
"Mr Abbott has never made representations to Minister Dutton regarding this matter," the spokesman said.
Mr Huang said: "I am seeking legal advice about the clear attempts by Fairfax and the ABC to undermine my citizenship application and have nothing further to say on the matter."
Fairfax Media revealed last week that Labor Senator Sam Dastyari or his office called the Immigration Department four times to quiz it about the progress of Mr Huang's citizenship application, which has stalled while it is scrutinised by ASIO. Mr Dastyari was one of Mr Huang's key contacts in the ALP.
Fairfax Media also unsuccessfully sought to question Liberal MP David Coleman about his recent dealings with Mr Huang.
A spokesman for Mr Coleman said: "Mr Coleman's electorate has a large number of people of Chinese background and he knows many Chinese community leaders in Sydney.
"Mr Coleman was not aware of ASIO's concerns [raised about Mr Huang in 2015] prior to the Four Corners program being broadcast."
Mr Caputo made headlines in 2014 after giving evidence at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption's investigation into alleged Liberal party slush funds used to hide political donations from banned donors, including property developers.
Mr Huang had no connection to that inquiry.
Mr Caputo told the ICAC he had handed over thousands of dollars' worth of cheques from a March 2011 Liberal party fund-raiser to former NSW energy minister Chris Hartcher.
Mr Caputo, who strenuously denied any wrongdoing, conceded to ICAC that this was not normal fundraising practice.