Court lifts secrecy over alleged Australian spy trial

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CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – A court on Wednesday agreed to lift the veil of secrecy on the trial of a spy lawyer who could potentially confirm Australia has wiretapped the Timor-Leste government in oil talks and multi-billion dollar gas.

The Australian government declined to comment on claims that the spy, known to the public as Witness K, led an Australian Secret Service operation that wiretapped government offices in Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili. , in 2004 to give Australia an unfair advantage in negotiations. on the sharing of oil and gas revenues from the seabed that separate the two countries.

K’s lawyer, Bernard Collaery, is accused of conspiring with K to communicate information to East Timor about the functions of ASIS. Collaery won an appeal on Wednesday against a decision by an Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court judge to withhold “certain information” about ASIS activities likely to come out during his trial.

The judge ruled in June that public disclosure of the information “posed a real risk of harming national security.”

Collaery appealed against this decision. He admitted that some sensitive information could not be revealed in open court for security reasons. But he successfully advocated for the public disclosure of “information relating to the truth on six specific issues.”

The six “identified matters” should force the authorities to confirm in open court the espionage operation which has embarrassed the Australian government for years.

Three Court of Appeal justices unanimously quashed nondisclosure orders made by former Attorney General Christian Porter to conceal evidence. Porter cleared the lawsuits against Collaery and K in 2018.

“The Court of Appeal admitted that public disclosure of information relating to the veracity of the facts identified would involve a risk of harm to national security,” the judges said in a statement.

“However, the court doubted that a significant risk of harm to national security would materialize. On the other hand, there was a very real risk of damaging public confidence in the administration of justice if the evidence could not be disclosed publicly, ”they said.

The judges also said that the public hearing of criminal trials is important because it “deters political prosecution”.

Collaery, who is isolating himself at his home in Canberra as a precautionary measure in the event of a pandemic, did not attend the hearing. He welcomed the court’s decision.

“It is a wonderful day for the legal profession and for the law,” Collaery told The Associated Press.

“When powers are abused, the courts and the profession are the bulwark,” said Collaery, referring to the government’s attempt to use national security laws to try him in secret.

Attorney General Michaelia Cash, who replaced Porter in March, “is carefully reviewing the judgment,” her office said in a statement.

Collaery is also charged with five counts of breaking security laws by sharing classified ASIS information with journalists after his home and office were raided by police in 2013.

Each count carries a maximum penalty of 2 years in prison. The increasingly secretive government has since increased those sentences to 10 years in prison.

K pleaded guilty to conspiracy with Collaery and was released from a Canberra court in June with a three-month suspended prison sentence.

The media and the public were excluded from half of its two-day sentencing hearing when classified evidence was discussed.

There was no evidence heard in open court of a wiretapping operation, which media reported was carried out under the guise of a foreign aid program.

East Timor argued that a 2006 oil and gas revenue sharing treaty was invalid because Australia failed to negotiate in good faith by engaging in espionage.

The government canceled K’s passport before he testified before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2014 to support East Timor’s challenge to the validity of the treaty.

Australia and East Timor agreed on a new maritime boundary and revenue-sharing treaty in 2018. A year later, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrived in Dili to formalize the agreement and been the target of street protests demanding that charges against K and Collaery be dropped.

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