Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Dreyfus ends prosecutor’s trial over alleged leak of Australian espionage against East Timor

The Albanian government has acted swiftly to drop the prosecution of Bernard Collaery, who has been charged in connection with the leak of information about Australia’s alleged espionage in Timor-Leste.

Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said when I made this decision, I carefully considered our national security interests and the proper administration of justice.

“It is my opinion that the prosecution of Mr Collaery should end.”

He said the “decision to stop the prosecution was informed by the government’s commitment to protecting Australia’s national interest, including our national security and Australia’s relations with our nearest neighbors.”

Collaery, 77, is a former ACT attorney general.

He was the lawyer for the whistleblower known as Witness K, a former ASIS official.

Witness K received a suspended sentence in 2021 after pleading guilty to conspiring with Collaery to disclose information about the alleged espionage.

Collaery would be tried in October on charges of violating the Intelligence Services Act.

The alleged espionage by the Australian government at the time of 2004 was negotiations between the two countries over oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea. The Australian Secret Intelligence Service – Australia’s foreign intelligence service – allegedly had listening devices in East Timor’s cabinet room in Dili.

Dreyfus said at a news conference on Thursday that this was an exceptional case. Governments need to protect secrets and our government remains steadfast in our commitment to keep Australians safe by keeping secrets out of the wrong hands.

“The long-standing practice of the government has been not to confirm or deny claims made on intelligence matters and I will strictly adhere to that practice.”

He said prosecutions involve a balancing of interests. The balance of interests can change over time and this is such a case.

“The consent of a former Attorney General was required to begin the prosecution of Mr Collaery. In view of our national security, our national interest and the administration of justice, I decided today that the prosecution should end.”

The proceedings against Collaery were surrounded by secrecy, with the former government arguing that they should be heard largely privately. .

Collaery’s home and office were raided in 2013.

He represented East Timor in The Hague at the time in his action against Australia.

Independent Andrew Wilkie, who welcomed Dreyfus’ actions, said: “The fact that Mr Collaery was prosecuted in the first place was a serious injustice and an outrageous attack on the legal profession, especially considering that he was merely a lawyer was doing his job.

“The Australian government is the real villain in this case, after making the appalling decision to spy on East Timor, which is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia.

“While someone has to answer in court, it certainly should never have been the ASIS whistleblower and his lawyer.”

Crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie said: “Since I stood on the steps of the Canberra Magistrate’s Court in September 2018, I have asked that the prosecution of Bernard Collaery be dropped.”

She said the decision “to continue this politically motivated prosecution is an embarrassment to the rule of law in Australia”.

“At no stage during this miserable case was there a clear and convincing argument as to why the prosecution of this case is in the public interest.”

Nation World News Desk
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