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29 February 2024, 2:49pm
Media Release

First sentence for foreign interference handed down

A Melbourne man has been sentenced to two years and nine months’ imprisonment for trying to influence a Federal Parliamentarian on behalf of a foreign government, including a foreign intelligence agency.

The man, 68, was sentenced today (29 February 2024) by the County Court of Victoria after he was charged in November 2020 for preparing for a foreign interference offence.

A year-long criminal investigation by the AFP, as a member of the Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce, identified the man was attempting to influence a Federal Government Minister as part of a longer-term plan to pursue objectives of the foreign government.

Investigators identified the man made a significant public donation to a Melbourne hospital in what was alleged to be an attempt to obtain favour and attention.

Early intervention by the ASIO-led Taskforce ensured the Federal Parliamentarian was not compromised.

The AFP executed search warrants at the man’s office and home in October 2020 and he was later charged on 5 November (2020) with a foreign interference offence.

The man was the first person in Australia to be charged with a foreign interference offence since the Commonwealth Parliament passed the new National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill in 2018.

AFP Acting Assistant Commissioner Counter Terrorism and Special Investigations Stephen Nutt said combatting espionage and foreign interference was a key priority for the AFP.

“Espionage and foreign interference represent a serious threat to Australia’s sovereignty and the security and integrity of our national institutions,” Acting Assistant Commissioner Nutt said.

“Threats posed by foreign interference are not constrained to one sector of the Australian community nor perpetrated by any single nation.

“Foreign state actors undertaking these activities are intent on creating and pursuing opportunities to interfere with Australians – from decision-makers at all levels of government, across a range of business sectors, and even in our local communities.

“The AFP and our partner agencies, as members of the Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce, continue to take significant steps to strengthen our ability to defend against foreign interference.”

On 19 December 2023, a jury found the man guilty of preparing for a foreign interference offence, contrary to section 92.4 of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth) in the County Court of Victoria.

He was today (29 February 2024) sentenced by the County Court of Victoria to a custodial sentence of two years and nine months, with a release order after serving 12 months, on $3000 surety and to be of good behaviour for the remainder of the term.

The AFP developed a Foreign Interference in the Community Factsheet to assist in educating Australian communities on foreign interference, how to recognise it, and how to report it. The factsheet is publicly available on the Espionage and foreign interference page in multiple languages.

If members of the public believe they are the target of foreign interference, they should contact the National Security Hotline on 1800 123 400. Reports made to the National Security Hotline can be made anonymously and are passed to the appropriate intelligence or law enforcement agency for consideration.

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