Australian woman charged over fake coup plot

The country has seen sometimes violent protests against lockdown measures, designed to curb the spread of the virus in major cities.
The country has seen sometimes-violent protests against lockdown measures, designed to curb the spread of the virus in major cities.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian police on Friday (Sept 10) said they had charged a woman over her alleged role in a coup hoax that featured a fake recording of the police chief calling for the government to be toppled.

Earlier this year, a 43-minute audio recording circulated, purporting to feature the Australian Federal Police commissioner calling for recruits to help "overthrow the government". Australian police said the recording is fake and have arrested two people, a man in Western Australia and now a 49-year-old woman in South Australia.

The woman - who was not named - has been charged with impersonating a police officer and helping secure a shipment of more than 400 fake federal police badges from an overseas manufacturer.

The audio recording features a list of conspiracy-filled grievances against Australia's Covid-19 restrictions and vaccinations, and has been heard more than 100,000 times. It calls for recruits - some armed - to carry out a wave of "arrests" of top Australian officials and "dissolve the government" by force, if needed.

"The people at the top will be removed from their positions," said a man pretending to be the police commissioner, adding that a prominent activist will be installed as "the true governor general".

"This is not a bloody game, there could be a time when your life is threatened," he is recorded saying.

Law enforcement said on Friday that there was no evidence of an "impending threat to community safety" and "have yet to find any evidence the group had the ability to carry out acts they had discussed".

The coronavirus pandemic has seen a surge in misinformation and conspiracy theories in Australia, some taking inspiration from overseas groups, most notably from the United States.

The country has seen sometimes-violent protests against lockdown measures, designed to curb the spread of the virus in major cities. Police assistant commissioner for counter-terrorism Scott Lee said police are continuing their investigation and may make further arrests.

"Impersonating commonwealth officials and the potential misuse of AFP badges is something we take very seriously, which is reflected in the ongoing investigation and the action taken today," he said. Most of the badges are said to have been recovered.