Ramos-Horta urges dropping of Australia spy case charges
By Agence France-Presse
Criminal charges against two men who exposed a secret Australian bugging operation in East Timor during a lucrative oil and gas deal must be dropped, the nation’s former president said Tuesday.
An ex-Australian spy, known as “Witness K”, and his lawyer were charged last month with breaching the Intelligence Services Act for divulging details of an alleged 2004 Australian plot to listen in on Dili’s cabinet rooms during negotiations over an oil and gas treaty and maritime boundary dispute.
Witness K later became a key witness for East Timor in a case against Canberra over the claims, which have since been dropped.
Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and president of East Timor from 2007-2012, said there was nothing to gain from punishing the men.
“Witness K and the barrister Bernard Collaery did not commit an act of treason in a situation of war between Australia and China or Australia and North Korea,” he told broadcaster ABC.
“It was a case of moral conscience … that had zero impact on Australian national security.
“I say please drop the case and let (Witness K and Collaery) continue their lives normally.”
Ramos-Horta, who was foreign minister at the time of the negotiations, added that he intended to recommend them for the Order of Timor-Leste, the country’s highest decoration.
“They are considered among the people who are at the forefront of the fight for justice,” he said.
Collaery told reporters in June the pair had been charged with conspiracy to breach section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act for allegedly sharing information they obtained during Witness K’s employment.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie — himself a former intelligence analyst — has previously claimed in parliament they were being made scapegoats for the “unscrupulous” and “illegal” bugging operation.
The protracted row over East Timor and Australia’s maritime border — with billions of dollars in offshore gas revenue at stake — was finally resolved in March, and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop made her first trip in years to the neighbouring country this week.
East Timor, which gained independence from Indonesian occupation in 2002, is impoverished and depends heavily on oil and gas exports.
In 2006, it signed a maritime treaty with Australia which covered the vast Greater Sunrise gas field between the two nations, which has an estimated worth of between US$40-50 billion.
But Dili then accused Australia of spying to gain commercial advantage and demanded the treaty be ripped up.
It officially dropped its spying case before the UN’s highest International Court of Justice in June 2015 after Australia returned sensitive documents, ahead of the dispute’s resolution.
Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter suggested on Monday he would not be backing down.
“The submission (from the Director of Public Prosecutions) recommended the prosecution of two individuals. I consented to that prosecution. Other than saying that, there is very little that I can go into further.” (AFP)