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