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Former Australian spy Witness K spared jail time over conspiracy charges relating to alleged spying on East Timor

ABC News - June 18, 2021

Elizabeth Byrne – The former Australian spy dubbed Witness K has been given a three-month suspended sentence for conspiring to reveal classified information about an alleged spying operation during oil and gas treaty negotiations between Australia and East Timor.

Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery were charged in 2018, five years after raids on their homes in Canberra over the case.

Mr Collaery has chosen to fight his conspiracy charge at trial, but Witness K yesterday pleaded guilty to his charge.

The former spy faced the ACT Magistrates Court again on Friday where Magistrate Glenn Theakston spared him jail time.

Mr Theakston instead convicted Witness K and gave him a three-month suspended sentence in order to "send a message to others".

Lawyer asks for 'judicial mercy'

Witness K on Friday received his sentence while hidden behind tall black screens to obscure his identity.

The glass doors of the court were blacked out and the courtroom was regularly opened and closed as it dealt with the classified material involved in the case.

Witness K pleaded guilty on Thursday to conspiring with his then-lawyer Mr Collaery to reveal information about an alleged spying operation in East Timor during sensitive oil and gas treaty negotiations.

The evidence against Witness K included a letter and affidavits to an international court dating back to 2013.

Witness K's lawyer Robert Richter played down the length of the conspiracy in court.

But prosecutor Richard Maidment told the court the evidence showed several deliberate acts by the pair, which included media interviews involving Mr Collaery.

Mr Maidment noted East Timor initiated proceedings in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in April 2013, alleging Australia had failed to negotiate in good faith because it had engaged in espionage.

Mr Maidment told the court it was clear that the pair intended to eventually disclose the information to East Timor.

Mr Richter told the court there was no chance Witness K would repeat the offence and urged the court not to impose a sentence based on general deterrence.

"Mr K is an elderly man," Mr Richter told the court. "Mr K is suffering a number of afflictions ... that makes it an exercise of judicial mercy."

Charge not a 'trivial matter', prosecution says

Witness K's past was also discussed during Friday's hearing, including his 39-year career which included stints in the Navy and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.

The court heard he had retired after extreme disappointment when he failed to secure a promotion.

Mr Richter said the former spy had suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

But Mr Maidment urged against seeing Witness K's crime as a trivial matter.

"This offence was not committed instantaneously over a momentary lapse," Mr Maidment told the court.

"This was a considered course of action from at least the 7th of May 2013."

Mr Maidment told the court that it did not matter whether the crime was committed out of altruism or Witness K's sense of grievance.

Mr Collaery, who has chosen to fight his conspiracy charge at trial, was present in court for much of Witness K's hearing.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-06-18/act-witness-k-sentencing-hearing/10022643