|Australia intel agents intimidate lawyer prosecuting Canberra for illegal East Timor bugging
A lawyer representing East Timor in a commercial spying case against Canberra at The Hague said his offices were raided by Australian intelligence officials today and a key witness arrested.
Bernard Collaery, who is arguing Dili's case in an arbitration over a controversial gas treaty with Australia in the Timor Sea, said agents identifying themselves as members of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation raided his Canberra offices, seizing electronic and paper documents. He characterised it as intimidation.
“As I understand it agents of the Australian Security Intelligence Oganisation executed a search warrant on my law practice and spent some hours there seizing all manner of documents and other records on the basis that there was a national security issue,'' Collaery told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from The Hague, where he is preparing for a hearing Thursday.
“This can only relate to the proceedings against Australia over the bugging of the Timor Leste cabinet office during the negotiations for a petroleum and gas treaty in 2004.''
That treaty, Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea, or CMATS, set out a 50:50 split of proceeds from the vast maritime gas fields between the two nations, estimated at some A$40 billion.
But the Timorese government is now disputing the deal, accusing Australia of secretly listening in on ministerial deliberations in Dili in 2004.
Collaery said the ASIO agents refused to provide a copy of their search warrant on the grounds that it contained “national security secrets.’’
“This is a blatant, disgraceful attempt to impede the course of justice for Timor Leste,'' he said.
“The evidence is here [in The Hague]. I can't see what the Government hopes to achieve by this aggressive action,'' he added.
Australia Attorney-General George Brandis and ASIO had no immediate comment when contacted by AFP.
Documents to be presented in the case and seized in the raids allegedly reveal an “elaborate'' plan using an Australian aid project to renovate Timor's cabinet offices as a front to insert listening devices in the walls, according to Collaery.
“This was a bugging operation on sovereign Timor territory,'' he said.
“This was a commercially-designed conspiracy in Canberra to bring about a successful result for Australia over a deposit of gas and oil which was minuscule compared with Australia's own reserves.''
Collaery said the raid “may be designed as an intimidatory gesture,’’ adding that he understood a key witness in the case had been arrested in a separate ASIO raid today.
Frank Brennan, a Canberra lawyer who is close to the case, told the ABC that the “prime witness for the Timorese in these proceedings, a retired ASIS agent'' was detained and questioned for some time, along with his wife. It was unclear if he had been released.
ASIS is Australia's foreign spy agency and, according to Collaery, was behind the cabinet espionage operation.