Australian lawmaker investigated in China influence probe

SYDNEY (AP) — An Australian state lawmaker was suspended from his party Friday and his home was searched in an investigation of alleged influence by China.

Police and intelligence officers searched the Sydney home of New South Wales state lawmaker Shaoquett Moselmane and also had a warrant for his parliamentary offices, said state Labor leader Jodi McKay.

Australian Federal Police confirmed they’d searched a home in Sydney as part of an investigation and there was no threat to the community.

Moselmane has not been charged with any crime and it is not clear what sparked the investigation. He did not speak about the investigation to reporters Friday.

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In April, he stood down as assistant president of the New South Wales upper house after praising Chinese President Xi Jinping’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. He said Xi had demonstrated “unswerving leadership” and decisiveness.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Moselmane had taken nine privately funded trips to China since entering the state Parliament in 2009, with disclosure records showing his transport and hospitality costs were often met by Chinese government officials or agencies.

McKay, the state Labor leader, said the search came as a surprise to her. “It’s dreadfully concerning. It’s terrible,” McKay said.

She said there is an expectation that whatever members of Parliament do is in the best interests of the people.

“I’d hope every single MP in the Parliament — not just on the Labor side but the Liberal and National Party side and cross bench — has that at the heart of their actions,” she said.

McKay said Moselmane’s party membership was being suspended and he would no longer sit in the Labor parliamentary caucus.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison of the conservative Liberal party said he was aware of an investigation that had been going on for some time.

“It’s elevated to a new level today,” he said. “The need to take action is necessary and the government is absolutely determined to ensure that nobody interferes with Australia’s activities. We won’t cop anyone coming and seeking to interfere in our political system.”

Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter said espionage and foreign interference threaten Australian national security.

“It is worth saying that the government is sharply focused on activity in this area as evidenced by the complete rewrite of the laws applying to espionage and foreign interference and also foreign influence,” he said in a statement.

China and Australia have been increasingly at odds in recent weeks. Morrison last week said a state actor he refused to name was increasing cyberattacks against Australia. Many assume he was referring to China.

That came after China banned beef exports from Australia’s largest abattoirs, ended trade in Australian barley with a tariff wall, and warned its citizens against visiting Australia.

Those measures are widely interpreted as retaliation for Australia’s advocacy of an independent probe into the origins and spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

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