SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian politician whose home and office were raided by the federal police and an intelligence agency said the probe was part of a foreign interference investigation focused on China and he was not a suspect and had done nothing wrong.
Australia passed foreign interference legislation in 2018, spurred in part by a classified Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) report on Chinese influence activity, sparking anger from Beijing.
Early on Friday, federal police searched New South Wales (NSW) state politician Shaoquett Moselmane’s home and parliamentary office in an investigation Prime Minister Scott Morrison linked to foreign interference.
“The investigation is into certain other people allegedly advancing the goals of a foreign government, namely the People’s Republic of China,” Moselmane told a news conference on Monday
“My allegiance is first and foremost to Australia.”
An ASIO representative said on Friday the agency had conducted “search warrant activity” as part of an investigation that “does not relate to any specific threat to the community”. ASIO did not provide any further details of the raids or the reason they took place.
Moselmane this year attracted criticism from fellow politicians for praising Chinese President Xi Jinping’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I have done nothing wrong,” said Moselmane.
“I have no access or knowledge ... on any of the laws or secrets of the state. Nor was there any campaign on my part to change the ALP’s China policy.”
Moselmane is a member of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) opposition in NSW.
China’s foreign ministry declined to comment on the case on Monday but said certain Australian political figures were “stigmatising and demonising normal China-Australia relations”.
“People in Australia are passionately cooking up stories of Chinese espionage and infiltration without producing tangible evidence. In contrast, China has so much evidence of Australia spying on China,” said ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.
Moselmane said that while there had been much talk about his travels to China, he had never been on a Chinese government-sponsored trip.
He said six out of nine trips he had made to China involved the delivery of wheel chairs to disabled children for a charity he was involved with and he paid for flights and accommodation.
Australia’s ties with China, its largest trading partner, have become strained after Canberra pushed for an international inquiry into the source and spread of the coronavirus that emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
Reporting by Kirsty Needham, additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing; Editing by Michael Perry