Australian spy to plead guilty in East Timor bugging case

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A former Australian spy will plead guilty to conspiring to reveal classified information about an allegation that Australia bugged East Timor’s government during negotiations over the sharing of billions of dollars in oil and gas revenue in 2004, splitting his case from his lawyer and alleged co-conspirator who will fight the charge, a court was told Tuesday.

East Timor launched a case in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2013 to pull out of a bilateral treaty for sharing Timor Sea energy revenue based on allegations that Australia gained an unfair advantage in negotiations by bugging East Timorese Cabinet rooms in Dili, East Timor’s capital. Australia refuses to discuss classified information.

Haydn Carmichael — who represents the Australian Secret Intelligence Service spy, known as Witness K, who alleges he led the illegal bugging operation — told the Australian Capital Territory Magistrates Court that his client would plead guilty to the conspiracy charge, which carries a potential sentence of two years in prison.

But Witness K’s former lawyer and alleged co-conspirator, Bernard Collaery, will plead not guilty and will be tried in the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court, Collaery’s lawyer Ken Archer told Acting Chief Magistrate Glenn Theakston.

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Collaery will appear in the Supreme Court on Aug. 22. Witness K will appear in the Magistrates Court for sentencing on Aug. 29.

East Timor dropped its legal case against Australia in 2017 in a gesture of goodwill after the two countries struck a new deal that gives most of the oil and gas revenue from the seabed that separates them to Australia’s impoverished half-island neighbor. The treaty will come into force on Aug. 30. Senior East Timorese figures have asked Australia to drop charges against Witness K and Collaery, who the leaders argue were acting on their consciences.

Collaery told The Associated Press that he suspected Witness K had been offered a plea deal. Collaery said he would not accept such a deal. The co-defendants are not allowed under Australian security laws to speak to each other.

In a written statement handed to reporters outside the Magistrates Court on Tuesday, Collaery said “mighty forces are at play here to hide dirty political linen.”

Collaery described the allegation of a conspiracy between him as his former client as “contemptible.”

“In providing Witness K with advice, it became apparent that the misconduct complained of was a culture unrelated in any way and, in fact, contrary to Australia’s national security interests,” the statement said.

“It was a cheating culture motivated by commercial interests and an abuse of process to utilize our service men and women in its implementation,” he added.

Collaery said Witness K “had endured six long years of seclusion, unrelenting stress and pressure and now this charge.”

“I can say no more because I am silenced by a law we gave our political leaders to fight terrorism,” he said.

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