THE HAGUE: East Timor has launched legal action against Canberra at the United Nations’ (UN) top court, alleging Australian intelligence officials illegally seized documents from a lawyer representing Dili in a row over spying.
Australia’s domestic spy agency earlier this month raided the Canberra offices of Bernard Collaery and seized electronic and paper documents.
Collaery is representing East Timor’s government in an arbitration hearing at The Hague, which accuses Australia of espionage over a controversial Timor Sea oil and gas treaty. The raid came ahead of a hearing in the case.
The premises of a former intelligence agent turned whistleblower in the case against Canberra were also raided.
East Timor’s Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao has labelled the action “unconscionable” and on Wednesday the deeply poor half-island nation launched action at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.
Dili contends that the seizure of documents violated its sovereignty and rights “under international and any relevant domestic law,” according to a court statement.
The country that last year celebrated a decade of independence after years of brutal Indonesian occupation demanded Australia return the documents and destroy any copies.
It also asked for “provisional measures” until the ICJ rules on the case, including that the documents be handed to the court and that Australia guarantee it will not intercept communications between East Timor and its legal advisers.
Cases at the ICJ can take months or even years to resolve.