DILI, East Timor: Australia has agreed to return to East Timor sensitive documents related to a controversial oil and gas treaty between the two countries which were seized by Canberra, following a battle at the UN’s top court, Dili said.
East Timor dragged Canberra to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague in early 2014 seeking the return of the documents that were taken by Australia’s intelligence services in a raid on an East Timor lawyer’s office in the Australian capital.
The documents relate to a multi-billion-dollar agreement signed in 2006 between Canberra and Dili, several years after East Timor won independence following years of brutal Indonesian occupation.
The tiny, half-island nation, which has a sluggish economy heavily dependent on oil and gas, wants the treaty torn up, as it claims Australia spied on ministers to gain commercial advantage.
Australia allegedly used an aid project refurbishing East Timor’s cabinet offices as a front to plant listening devices to eavesdrop on deliberations about the treaty in 2004.
The UN court battle was postponed in September after both sides said they were seeking an “amicable settlement”.
Before the case was postponed, the ICJ—which rules in disputes between states—had already ordered Australia to stop interfering with East Timor and forbidden Canberra from reading the secret documents.
East Timor said that Australia had now agreed to hand back the paper and electronic documents, which were seized in 2013 from Canberra offices of lawyer Bernard Collaery.
In a statement late Sunday, East Timor welcomed “the decision of the government of Australia to return all documents and data seized from (East Timor)’s legal representative in 2013”.
There was no immediate reaction from Canberra, but Collaery told the ABC: “There’s been a formal consent order made in the Hague and that was last week.”
East Timor said the return of the documents was just one outcome it had been seeking from the court fight and it was “taking legal advice and considering its position” on the case.
It also noted that its demand for a timetable for talks on finally deciding maritime boundaries with Australia had not been met, and government spokesman Agio Pereira called on Canberra to “commit to a clear course of negotiations”.
The treaty splits proceeds from vast maritime energy fields in the Timor Sea 50-50 between the neighbors, but Australian media have reported that the lion’s share of the oil and gas would be on Timorese territory if boundaries were defined according to normal rules of the sea.