Contributor Perspectives

Oil, Spies and Audiotape in East Timor

Charles Glass
Board of Contributors
Jul 22, 2018 | 17:00 GMT
Timor-Leste's Foreign Affairs minister Jose Luis Gutierrez (R) speaks with Australian lawyer Bernard Collaery (L) during a session of the International Court of Justice in 2014. Collaery faces prosecution in Australia for disclosing information about the country's intelligence services in a case worthy of a spy novel.

Timor-Leste's Foreign Affairs minister Jose Luis Gutierrez (R) speaks with Australian lawyer Bernard Collaery Bernard Collaery during an audience of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, on January 20, 2014. Tiny, young East Timor drags its giant neighbour Australia before the United Nations' top court this week in a cloak-and-dagger case with billions of dollars in natural resources at stake. At the heart of the David and Goliath dispute at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague is a controversial oil and gas treaty signed by Dili in 2006, shortly after independence from Indonesia. East Timor wants judges at the ICJ, which rules on disputes between states, to order Australia to return documents its intelligence services seized last year relating to Dili's bid to get the treaty torn up. AFP PHOTO / NICOLAS DELAUNAY (Photo credit should read NICOLAS DELAUNAY/AFP/Getty Images)


The Australian Capital Territory's Magistrates Court, as the country's tribunal for "less serious criminal matters" is known, begins an unusual hearing July 25. The government is prosecuting two men with no prior record: lawyer Bernard Collaery and his client, an Australian Secret Intelligence Services (ASIS) operative named in the indictment only as "Witness K." The charge is that they conspired to violate Section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act by disclosing information about ASIS. The government wants the trial held behind closed doors, citing national security reasons. But a secret trial would do less for public safety than for the reputation of the politicians involved. The case has all the elements of a John Grisham blockbuster: spies, intrigue against a foreign government, a victimized lawyer, public servants on oil company payrolls, witch hunts, harassment of journalists, suspected bribery, betrayal and duplicity on a grand scale. No wonder the politicians don't want...

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