Melbourne Man the First Charged Under New Foreign Interference Laws

Melbourne Man the First Charged Under New Foreign Interference Laws
Melbourne's Chinatown on Aug. 13, 2020. (William West/AFP via Getty Images)
Daniel Y. Teng

A 65-year-old Asian community leader in Melbourne is the first person charged under Australia’s 2018 foreign interference laws.

Duong Di Sanh, also known as Sunny Duong, leads a number of community organisations including the Oceania Federation of Chinese Organisations from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos Inc., and the Museum of Chinese Australian History Melbourne.

He is also linked to the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification, an organisation controlled by Beijing’s chief overseas influence body, the United Front Work Department.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) charged Duong with preparing for a foreign interference offence, contrary to Section 92.4 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

The maximum penalty for this offence is 10 years imprisonment.

The AFP also executed a number of search warrants in the greater Melbourne area on Oct. 16, while Duong appeared in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Nov. 5.

The charges come following a year-long investigation by the Counter Foreign Interference (CFI) Taskforce, led by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the AFP, investigating Duong’s relationship with a foreign intelligence body.

“The CFI Taskforce has taken preventative action to disrupt this individual at an early stage,” Deputy Commissioner Ian McCartney said in a statement.

“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.’’

The matter remains an ongoing investigation.

The National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill was rushed through Parliament in 2018 by then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in response to reports of Beijing-linked interference activities in Australia’s political circles and university institutions.

More recently, the laws have been deployed by AFP and ASIO to investigate New South Wales Parliamentarian Shaoquett Moselmane, and his adviser John Zhang, in a dramatic morning raid in June.

The latest incident also comes amid repeated warnings from ASIO Chief Mike Burgess that overseas agencies were targeting all sectors of society for foreign interference activities.
Meanwhile, the Acting Immigration Minister has also warned that foreign interference was at an “unprecedented high.”