07 December 2013
AUSTRALIA TRIES TO STOP EX-SPY FROM TESTIFYING IN INTERNATIONAL COURT
The government of Australia has confiscated the passport of a former intelligence officer who was preparing to testify at an international court that Canberra engaged in illegal economic espionage.
The International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, is preparing to hear a case brought against Australia by the government of East Timor.
The small island nation accuses Australia of bugging the offices of key Timorese officials in an attempt to acquire inside information on a crucial energy deal.
East Timor claims that a group of Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) officers disguised themselves as a refurbishing crew and planted numerous electronic surveillance devices in an East Timorese government office. The information collected from the listening devices allegedly allowed Australia to gain an upper hand during negotiations that led to the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) treaty.
The treaty, signed in 2004, allows the two countries to share the revenue derived from the exploitation of the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field, sections of which are claimed by both Australia and East Timor.
But the Timorese side now claims that Canberra gained an unfair advantage in the CMATS negotiations through its bugging operation, and is asking for the treaty to be terminated.
Sometime last week, Australian authorities found out that the East Timorese side had secured the cooperation of an ASIS whistleblower, who was prepared to testify at The Hague about the details of the bugging operation. The unnamed whistleblower, who is believed to be a former director of technical operations at ASIS, was prepared to tell the court that the operation was both immoral and wrong, because it was designed to benefit the interests of large energy conglomerates and had nothing to do with Australian national security.
On Tuesday, officers from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), which is the country's domestic intelligence agency, raided the offices of Bernard Collaery, who is acting as East Timor's lawyer in the case.
The raiders took away legal documents that disclose the identity of the ASIS whistleblower. Shortly afterwards the former ASIS official was questioned by Australian authorities, who then proceeded to confiscate his passport, so as to prevent him from traveling to the Netherlands.
Speaking after the raid, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the operation was aimed at upholding Australia's national interest.
We don't interfere in [court] cases, he told reporters, but we always act to ensure that our national security is being properly upheld, so that's what we're doing.
Late on Wednesday, East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao responded in a statement, saying that raiding the premises of a legal representative of Timor-Leste and taking such aggressive action against a key witness is unconscionable and unacceptable conduct.
Mr Collaery, the lawyer in the case, condemned the raid as an intimidatory tactic on behalf of the Australian government.