NSW MP’s Sydney home raided as ASIO probes China links

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Shaoquett Moselmane leaves his home on Lennox Street in Rockdale during a raid by federal agents.

Counter-espionage agency ASIO is conducting a sweeping investigation into allegations Chinese government agents have infiltrated the office of a NSW Labor politician to influence Australian politics.

Multiple sources aware of the foreign interference investigation said it was scrutinising the office of NSW Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane as part of one of the most significant inquiries in recent ASIO history.

As part of the inquiry, the federal police raided properties linked to Mr Moselmane on Friday morning, searching for evidence to support allegations of a Chinese government plot unfolding on Australian soil.

The sources said if sufficient evidence was found, the inquiry could ultimately result in an Australian and world first: a prosecution for foreign interference offences arising from an alleged covert Chinese Communist Party plot to influence a serving politician.

A dozen plain-clothed federal agents raided Mr Moselmane’s two-storey house in Rockdale, in Sydney’s south, at 6.30am and began conducting an extensive search for evidence.

An hour later, six forensics officers arrived and assisted with the search. At 9am, detectives searched three cars— an Audi, ute and Volvo— outside Mr Moselmane’s house.

Mr Moselmane’s lawyer arrived during the search and was let into the home by federal agents. The agents searched the house and were seen carrying bags and folders.

The Attorney-General Christian Porter has authorised efforts by ASIO to gather evidence of any person suspected of seeking to influence Mr Moselmane or his staff on behalf of the Chinese government. The step could only be taken if there were reasonable grounds to suspect evidence may be at those properties.

Security expert Neil Fergus said: “ASIO would not take this step lightly.”

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age is not suggesting the allegations involving Mr Moselmane and his office are proven, only that they are the subject of an ASIO and federal police inquiry.

The revelations of the ASIO probe are likely to trigger a political storm, given Labor has already weathered intense criticism over Mr Moselmane and his office’s apparent disdain for bipartisan reforms to curb Chinese government interference in Australia and the upper house MP’s unabashed praise of Beijing.

It is also likely to dramatically inflame tensions between China and Australia, which have plunged to a new low point following the federal government’s calls for an inquiry into Beijing’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Politicians across the nation have been repeatedly warned by ASIO about safeguarding against foreign government influence efforts. The warnings were amplified after the 2018 resignation of Labor senator Sam Dastyari amid claims he’d been cultivated by CCP-aligned political donor Huang Xiangmo, who was expelled from Australia in late 2018 after ASIO warned he may be engaged in foreign interference.

Since 2018, Mr Moselmane and his part-time staffer John Zhang have attracted media and political scrutiny over their support for Chinese government positions and criticisms of Australian government policy.

Mr Moselmane resigned as assistant president of the NSW Legislative Council after the Herald and The Age revealed how he wrote in an essay for a Chinese University that “the obsolete scum of white Australia” had re-emerged, attacked Australia’s “mainstream media” as anti-Chinese and praised Beijing’s leadership during the coronavirus crisis. The February essay mirrored Chinese state propaganda and was translated into Chinese by his staffer, Mr Zhang.

It was only the most recent of many controversial pro-Beijing comments Mr Moselmane has made. Mr Moselmane controversially gave a speech in 2019 proclaiming a “new world order” was needed for China to reach its potential.

Mr Moselmane has taken nine privately-funded trips to China since entering Parliament in 2009. Disclosure records show his transport and hospitality costs were often met by Chinese government officials or agencies.

He appointed Mr Zhang to his parliamentary office as a part-time staffer at the beginning of 2019. Mr Zhang has, according to Chinese websites, attended a propaganda training course in 2013 run by the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, which merged in 2018 with Chinese Communist Party’s opaque influence agency, the United Front Work Department (UFWD). The precise nature of the course is not known.

The UFWD, in part, works to increase the CCP’s influence in foreign political systems by employing legitimate means as well as covert, coercive methods.

Covert and coercive measures are outlawed under Australian counter-foreign interference laws.

Mr Zhang wrote in a 2014 blog how “to strengthen our [China’s] political influence, we must have more politicians like Shaoquett with pro-China sentiments to be our friends”.

The ASIO probe is examining if covert activities or agents directed by the CCP may have sought to influence Mr Moselmane, Mr Zhang or others in Mr Moselmane’s office and, if that can be proven, whether the politician and his staffers had any knowledge or on involvement.

One intelligence community insider who spoke on the condition of anonymity as they are not authorised to speak to the media said multiple warrants had been acted on in NSW in an attempt to gather evidence about the alleged plot. A second source with knowledge of the inquiry said it had begun as a narrow ASIO probe but dramatically widened.

The issuing of warrants to gather evidence in covert cases like this is an intensive process governed by stringent intelligence and communication laws designed to strike a balance between protecting national security and invading a person’s privacy.

ASIO is required to report to the Attorney-General on the extent to which the action taken under every warrant has assisted the agency, although civil libertarians and legal groups say the process is still unaccountable given it takes place behind closed doors.

Mr Moselmane has previously criticised Australia’s new counter-foreign interference laws in an interview with Chen Hong, director of the East China Normal University Australia Studies Center, in Shanghai.

Zhang is named online as a researcher at Professor Chen’s centre and Mr Moselmane is listed as a guest professor there. China analyst Alex Joske said Professor Chen has close ties to the Chinese Communist Party and is a prolific critic of Australian government policy.

In an interview Mr Chen conducted with Mr Moselmane in 2018, the pair discussed Australia’s counter-foreign interference laws, which were passed that year with bipartisan support. Mr Chen said reporting about interference had “singled out” China. Mr Moselmane agreed and also described scrutiny of Beijing’s influence campaign as a “witch hunt”.

Despite resigning as upper house assistant president, Mr Moselmane has remained a member of Parliament and a member of the Labor Party.

Labor leader Jodi McKay has previously described his comments praising Chinese President Xi Jinping as “appalling”, but ruled out expelling him from the party.

Federal Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton in April condemned Mr Moselmane’s website remarks as Chinese government “talking points”, while former Rudd government minister Stephen Conroy described Mr Moselmane as an “absolute disgrace to the Labor Party” and said it was “astonishing he’s still in Parliament”.

By Nick McKenzie and Joel Tozer
SMH

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