Australian lawyers fighting attempts by East Timor to tear up a lucrative oil and gas treaty have accused the small nation of potentially putting the lives of Australian security agents at risk and encouraging the commission of a crime during an international court hearing on the case.
East Timor wants to renegotiate the 2006 Treaty on “Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Se”a, which gives Australia access to develop and revenue from oil reserves within East Timor’s maritime zone, following claims that Australia bugged the island nation’s Dili cabinet rooms during the negotiations in 2004.
A former ASIS spy-turned-whistleblower, referred to in court as X, is a key witness in the case and last year, when his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, was in The Hague preparing the case, Australian Attorney General George Brandis authorised ASIO raids on the lawyer’s office and home, plus the former spy’s home, seizing documents on the grounds of national security.
X’s passport was also cancelled, preventing him from appearing as a witness.
East Timor is now in the International Court of Justice at The Hague seeking the return of the documents, before it goes to arbitration with Australia over the issue. It is arguing that without them, East Timor is at a disadvantage in subsequent hearings.
As both sides put forward their closing arguments on Wednesday, Australian solicitor general Justin Gleeson SC pondered a series of speculations that he put forward as “reasonable apprehension” rather than fact. He posited that East Timor may have encouraged the commission of a crime by using evidence from X, and that the lives of Australian intelligence officers may be in danger.
“Has Mr X disclosed, or does he threaten to disclose, names or identities of serving or former officers? If he does, will that endanger the lives and security of those persons, their families, persons they have dealt with – particularly if they are posted outside of Australia in dangerous places?” Mr Gleeson said.
East Timor’s ambassador to the UK, Joaquim da Fonseca, representing his country, responded with disgust, saying “Such expression of distrust falls short of recognition and appreciation of our broader relationship. I must firmly reject this careless and outrageous suggestion.”
He rounded on Australia’s actions, saying “This unprecedented and improper, indeed, inexplicable conduct is not the behaviour of some state that does not subscribe to normal standards of international legal behaviour. Rather, it is the behaviour of a state of considerable international standing.”
The Court is expected to take several weeks to hand down its ruling, but in the meantime, the ABC reports that Australia has pledged not to examine the documents until the decision. The material has apparently been sealed up since the December 3 raids.
The Guardian also has a good summary of the case here.
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