MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — A 65-year-old man has become the first person to be charged under Australia’s foreign interference laws that were passed two years ago, police said Thursday.
Di Sanh Duong has a relationship with a foreign intelligence agency, an Australian Federal Police statement said. Police would not name the country, but the legislation largely targets China’s growing influence.
Doung was charged in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Thursday with preparing for a foreign interference offense, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
He was released on bail to appear in court again in March.
The charge followed a yearlong investigation by the Counter Foreign Interference Task Force which was led by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, the nation’s domestic spy agency, and federal police, the statement said.
“The CFI Task Force has taken preventative action to disrupt this individual at an early stage,” police Deputy Commissioner Ian McCartney said.
“Foreign interference is contrary to Australia’s national interest, it goes to the heart of our democracy,” he said. “It is corrupting and deceptive, and goes beyond routine diplomatic influence practiced by governments.”
Australia passed laws in 2018 that ban covert foreign interference in domestic politics and make industrial espionage for a foreign power a crime. The laws offended the nation’s most important trading partner, China.