The Australian Federal Police has charged a former Liberal Party candidate with preparing for foreign interference, following a year-long joint investigation with Australia’s spy agency.
The 65-year-old Melbourne man, Di Sanh Duong, on Thursday became the first person in Australia to be charged under espionage and foreign interference laws which were passed in 2018. The maximum penalty for the offence is 10 years’ imprisonment.
Duong faced the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Thursday and was granted bail. He will return to court for a committal mention in March.
The AFP said it had executed a number of search warrants in the greater Melbourne area on October 16 as part of an extensive investigation by the Counter Foreign Interference (CFI) Taskforce, led by ASIO and the AFP.
The CFI has been looking into Duong’s relationship with an unnamed foreign intelligence agency, the AFP said. The investigation is ongoing.
According to The Age, Duong ran as a Liberal Party candidate in the 1996 Victorian election for the seat of Richmond.
He also appeared at a press conference at Royal Melbourne Hospital in June alongside federal urban infrastructure minister Alan Tudge. Duong was presenting the hospital with a $37,450 donation on behalf of the Oceania Federation of Chinese Associations, of which he is president.
I was so pleased to join members from the Oceania Federation of Chinese Organisations from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos at the @TheRMH today, where they presented a $37,000 donation toward COVID-19. This is a fantastic example of Aussies supporting Aussies! pic.twitter.com/YE4yuKMwOC
— Alan Tudge (@AlanTudgeMP) June 2, 2020
Duong also sits on the board of the Museum of Chinese Australian History.
He is the first person in Australia to be charged with a foreign interference offence since the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill was passed in 2018, according to AFP deputy commissioner Ian McCartney.
“The CFI Taskforce has taken preventative action to disrupt this individual at an early stage,” he said.
“Foreign interference is contrary to Australia’s national interest, it goes to the heart of our democracy. It is corrupting and deceptive, and goes beyond routine diplomatic influence practiced by governments.’’
ASIO director-general Mike Burgess recently told Senate Estimates about the ways foreign governments may attempt to influence local politicians and members of the Australian intelligence community, after the ASIO annual report revealed the spy agency recently disrupted a plot to infiltrate the national intelligence community.
The report warned that there have also been attempts by foreign actors to “secretly co-opt” and “cultivate” current and future Australian politicians in order to advance their interests.