Australia drops espionage charge against lawyer | world news
By ROD McGUIRK, Associated Press
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s new government on Thursday dropped a 4-year-old case against a lawyer for his alleged attempt to help East Timor prove that Australia spied on the then fledgling nation’s government in a multi-billion dollar oil and gas operation. negotiations in 2004.
Attorney General Mark Dreyfus maintained the government’s longstanding stance of refusing to confirm or deny whether the Australian Secret Service, a spy agency that operates out of Australian embassies, bugged government offices. in Dili, the capital of East Timor.
“After considering our national security, our national interest and the administration of justice, I have decided today to terminate these prosecutions,” Dreyfus said.
“My decision was informed by our government’s commitment to Australia’s national security and our commitment to our relationship with our neighbours. This is an exceptional case,” Dreyfus added.
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East Timor had pressed for the charge to be dropped.
Australia’s centre-left Labor government has been reviewing Bernard Collaery’s case since he came to power for the first time in nine years in May’s election.
The previous Conservative government in 2018 approved the prosecution of Collaery and his client, a former spy publicly known as Witness K, accused of conspiring to reveal secret information in East Timor.
A Conservative coalition was in power in 2004 when the eavesdropping allegedly took place to give Australia an advantage in negotiations over a treaty to split revenue from energy resources from the Timor Sea between the two nations.
East Timor, a poor country of 1.5 million people on half of the island of Timor in northern Australia, gained independence from Indonesia in 2002.
Witness K, the former spy, pleaded guilty and was released from court in 2021 with a three-month suspended sentence.
Collaery pleaded not guilty and was due to stand trial in October.
Collaery and K faced sentences of up to two years in prison. The sentence for the same offense has since been increased to 10 years.
The government canceled K’s passport before he testified at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2014 to support East Timor’s challenge to the validity of the 2006 energy treaty.
East Timor argued that the treaty was invalid because Australia failed to negotiate in good faith while engaging in espionage.
K and Collaery had prepared two affidavits for the government of East Timor that identified K as a former member of ASIS and details of ASIS duties, a court heard.
Australia and East Timor agreed to a new maritime boundary treaty in 2018.
Collaery, 77, thanked his lawyers, who represented him free of charge, and the Australian public who had expressed their support.
“I am very pleased that the new Attorney General has reviewed this prosecution and all it entails and has taken steps to bring the matter to a close. It is a good move for the administration of justice in Australia” , he said in a statement.
“This decision will allow me to move forward with my life and my legal practice,” he said.
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