Australian intelligence raids target lawmaker over China links

Shaoquett Moselmane's pro-Beijing positions have long raised eyebrows even among colleagues in the Labor Party. PHOTO: SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE/FACEBOOK

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian intelligence officers and police raided the home and office of an opposition politician on Friday (June 26) as part of an investigation into alleged Chinese influence operations, officials said.

Security agents searched the properties linked to New South Wales state legislator Shaoquett Moselmane, amid longstanding allegations of links to the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation confirmed to AFP that "search warrant activity is occurring in Sydney as part of an ongoing investigation".

They added that there was no "specific threat to the community."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia would "stand up" to any attempted foreign interference.

"The threats in this area are real, the need to take action is necessary," he said. "We won't cop anyone coming and seeking to interfere in our political system."

Mr Moselmane's pro-Beijing positions have long raised eyebrows even among colleagues in the Labor Party.

New South Wales Labor Party leader Jodi McKay told reporters she was informed about the operation on Mr Moselmane's home and office and said she had begun the process of suspending his membership of the party.

"It's dreadfully concerning," she said. "It's important that every MP focuses on the people in their state."

Mr Moselmane has publicly praised Chinese President Xi Jinping's "unswerving" leadership during the coronavirus pandemic, contrasting it favourably with Australia's own response.

Local media have reported he hired a staff member who trained at Beijing's Chinese Academy of Governance, a school of party members going into public office.

The operation is another signal of Australian authorities' new willingness to tackle allegations of Chinese subversion of Australian politics and is likely to raise the temperature in an already fractious relationship between Beijing and Canberra.

Last year, the former head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Mr Duncan Lewis, said China wanted to "take over" Australia's political system with an "insidious" and systematic campaign of espionage and influence peddling.

Mr Lewis at the time cited the case of Labor party powerbroker Sam Dastyari - dubbed "Shanghai Sam" - who was forced to resign in 2018 after taking tens of thousands of dollars from a Communist Party-linked donor.

Mr Morrison's government passed foreign interference legislation following revelations that wealthy Chinese businessmen with links to Beijing had been bankrolling local parties and candidates across the political spectrum.

The law notably required the registration of any person or organisation acting on behalf of a foreign government.

As part of that crackdown, the government barred a high-profile Chinese businessman who held Australian permanent residency from returning to the country.

Australian authorities are also looking into a claim that China tried to recruit a Melbourne businessman and get him elected to parliament.

Mr Bo "Nick" Zhao - a 32-year-old luxury car dealer who was a member of Mr Morrison's Liberal Party - apparently rebuffed the offer and was found dead in a motel room.

China has branded the claims "lies", accusing "some politicians, organisations and media in Australia" of "cooking up so-called China spy cases".

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.