Former Australian intel official charged with secrecy breach

ROD McGUIRK

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A former senior Australian intelligence official has appeared in a court charged with breaching secrecy laws over classified documents allegedly found at his home during an investigation into potential Chinese links to Australian politics.

Roger Uren appeared briefly in the Australian Capital Territory Magistrates Court in Canberra on Wednesday. He was released on bail and will appear in court next on Feb. 5. He did not enter pleas.

Australian Federal Police alleged in a statement on Thursday that Uren "illegally dealt with classified intelligence information."

Uren was assistant director of the prime minister's intelligence analysis agency, the Office of National Assessments, before he resigned in 2001.

He is the husband of U.S. citizen Sheri Yan, who was sentenced in the U.S. District Court in New York in 2016 to 20 months in prison after she pleaded guilty to bribing the U.N. General Assembly's then-President John Ashe.

Australian Security Intelligence Organization agents investigating potential Chinese Communist Party links to Australian politics raided the Canberra home of Uren and his lobbyist wife on Oct. 6, 2015, and again on Sept. 22, 2016. The agents say they discovered sensitive documents.

Uren faces 29 charges of unauthorized dealing with records under the Intelligence Services Act and one charge of unauthorized dealing with records under the Australian Security Intelligence Organization Act. Each charge carries a potential maximum sentence of three years in prison.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said Commonwealth Director for Public Prosecutions Sarah McNaughton had sought his consent to lay charges.

"After careful and thorough consideration of all the information provided to me by the CDPP, I provided that consent," Porter said a statement.

Government lawmaker Andrew Hastie told Parliament last year that he had been told by U.S. officials Yan had been acting as a go-between for Ashe and the source of a $225,000 bribe, Chinese-Australian billionaire property developer Chau Chak Wing. Chau denied the allegation.

Chau was awarded 280,000 Australian dollars ($200,000) in damages in February by an Australian judge who ruled he was defamed by a media report that insinuated he bribed Ashe. The 61-year-old Antiguan diplomat died in an accident in his New York home in 2016 while waiting to stand trial on a tax charge.

But because Hastie made his accusation in Parliament, he cannot be sued for defamation. Nor can any media organization be sued for reporting anything that is said in Parliament.

Police arrested Uren at his home last week and charged him before he was released on bail.