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Australian spy agency disrupts foreign election interference

Australian spy agency disrupts foreign election interference

CANBERRA, Ausralia (AP) — An Australian spy agency says it has disrupted a foreign government’s attempt to illegally bankroll the election of candidates who are politically sympathetic or vulnerable to inducements.

Mike Burgess, directory-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, did not identify the country when he delivered his annual security threat assessment on Wednesday.

He also did not say whether the targeted election was federal or state. Australians will vote for their national government by May.

“This case involved a wealthy individual who maintained direct and deep connections with a foreign government and its intelligence agencies,” Burgess said.

The wealthy “puppeteer” provided an agent with hundreds of thousands of dollars to find candidates who were either sympathetic or “vulnerable to inducements and cultivation,” Burgess said.

Inducements included promises of favorable stories in foreign-language news platforms, consultants and advertising, he said.

Burgess did not say whether charges have been brought.

Ties between Australia and China have deteriorated in recent years. Beijing was angered by laws introduced by Australia in 2019 that banned foreign donations to political parties and covert foreign interference in Australian politics.

The government explained that the laws were a response to foreign interference in U.S. and French presidential elections plus the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom.

In 2020, Di Sanh Duong, a Melbourne-based leader of a Chinese community organization and former political candidate, became the first person to be charged with foreign interference.

Last year, Sydney-based political adviser John Shi Sheng Zhangon lost his challenge in Australia’s highest court against search warrants used in a police investigation into illegal foreign interference on behalf of China.