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Four Corners TV probe lifts lid on oil industrial espionage

EAST TIMOR: Four Corners TV probe lifts lid on oil 'industrial espionage'

Four Corners investigation into the Timor-Leste allegations
against Australia ... the oil stakes are high. Image: ABC

SYDNEY (ABC Four Corners / Pacific Media Watch): Australia has been accused of trying to gag a key witness with threatened criminal charges for the Timor-Leste case against Canberra over the controversial 2006 oil rights treaty between the two countries.

The allegation is made in a new ABC Four Corners documentary, "Drawing The Line", being screened on television on Monday night.

Late last year the office of Canberra lawyer Bernard Collaery was raided by agents from ASIO and the Australian Federal Police, reports the investigative prigramme on its website.

They were looking for documents that linked his client, a former top Australian spy, to disclosures that Australia had bugged East Timor’s Prime Minister and his advisors during crucial treaty talks a decade ago. Those talks resulted in a treaty that carved up billions of dollars worth of oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.

Now both the lawyer and former spy are threatened with criminal charges for breaching national security laws.

Four Corners reporter Marian Wilkinson investigates the events leading up to the ASIO raids on Bernard Collaery and the former spy and reveals the growing friction between Dili and Canberra over the row.

'Strong case'
Attorney-General George Brandis defends the head of ASIO, David Irvine, for his advice on the warrants and tells Four Corners: “The intelligence case that ASIO put before me was a very strong case."

But East Timor’s lawyer, Bernard Collaery, says he is concerned the government is trying to stop the former spy, codenamed ‘Witness K’, giving evidence about the espionage operation in legal proceedings launched by East Timor.

East Timor’s advisors are now arguing Australia spied for commercial reasons. Former treaty negotiator Peter Galbraith tells Four Corners: “The Australian government was shockingly close to the oil companies.”

The stakes are high. East Timor wants to invalidate the treaty it signed with Australia in 2006 and has taken its case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

The tiny nation is calling on Australia to finally negotiate permanent and fair maritime boundaries that will give it more control over the oil and gas wealth in the Timor Sea.

"Drawing the Line", reported by Marian Wilkinson, produced by Peter Cronau, and presented by Kerry O’Brien, goes to air on Monday, 17 March 2014, at 8.30pm on ABC1.


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