The Press

Soldier faces mul­ti­ple charges of es­pi­onage

- Florence Kerr and Thomas Manch Crime · New Zealand · Russia · Wellington, New Zealand · Linton, Indiana · Official Secrets Act

A soldier who led a white na­tion­al­ist group has been charged with es­pi­onage, and is the first per­son to face such an ac­cu­sa­tion of threat­en­ing New Zealand’s se­cu­rity by giv­ing in­for­ma­tion to another coun­try or for­eign or­gan­i­sa­tion.

The De­fence Force yes­ter­day said the soldier, who has name sup­pres­sion, would face a court mar­tial on 17 charges in­clud­ing mul­ti­ple counts of es­pi­onage, at­tempted es­pi­onage, ac­cess­ing a com­puter sys­tem for dis­hon­est pur­poses, and pos­sess­ing an ob­jec­tion­able pub­li­ca­tion.

A date for the court mar­tial hear­ing has not been set.

Much of the de­tail of the al­le­ga­tions re­mains un­known, in­clud­ing the in­for­ma­tion the soldier ob­tained and which coun­try or for­eign or­gan­i­sa­tion he shared the in­for­ma­tion with.

A friend close to the soldier’s fam­ily said they were shocked at the charges. The soldier, who was 27 years old when he was ar­rested at Lin­ton Mil­i­tary Camp in De­cem­ber, now faces the pos­si­bil­ity of 14 years in prison.

Stuff pre­vi­ously re­vealed the soldier’s con­nec­tions to Far-Right, white na­tion­al­ist groups, lead­ing au­thor­i­ties to ques­tion him af­ter the March 15 ter­ror at­tack. A group the soldier led, the Do­min­ion Move­ment, shut down af­ter the ter­ror at­tack but later re­or­gan­ised un­der a new name.

The soldier con­tin­ued to be in­volved in Far-Right groups af­ter the March 15 at­tack, Stuff un­der­stands, and had been plan­ning to fly out to Rus­sia with his part­ner a week af­ter his ar­rest.

A friend close to the soldier’s fam­ily told Stuff it had al­ready been a ‘‘tough year’’ for the fam­ily.

‘‘Un­der­stand­ably they are in shock and need time to digest what is coming. I can’t stress enough that [he] comes from a

good fam­ily who have no ties to racist groups.

‘‘The ac­tual charges – es­pi­onage, at­tempted es­pi­onage – you only hear about those things in Amer­i­can mil­i­tary­movies.’’

Welling­ton bar­ris­ter Christo­pher Griggs, who has two decades of ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in mil­i­tary law, said this ap­peared to be the first time some­one had been charged with es­pi­onage since the Crimes Act was en­acted in 1961.

‘‘When I look through all of the New Zealand case law to the year dot, I can’t find any ex­am­ple of an es­pi­onage case in New Zealand ... So that is a big deal.’’

He said the trial of pub­lic ser­vant Dr Wil­liam Sutch, who was ac­cused of giv­ing clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion to a Rus­sian KGB op­er­a­tive in 1974, was the only case that ap­peared to be sim­i­lar in New Zealand’s his­tory.

Sutch was later found not guilty on a charge of breach­ing the Of­fi­cial Se­crets Act.

Griggs said it was un­cer­tain whether the soldier would even­tu­ally face the charges in a crim­i­nal court, as this de­pended on the in­for­ma­tion allegedly ob­tained by the soldier.

Ini­tially, in Jan­uary, the soldier was charged with ac­cess­ing a com­puter sys­tem for a dis­hon­est pur­pose and the unauthoris­ed dis­clo­sure of in­for­ma­tion – charges which Griggs also said were un­prece­dented.

A De­fence Force spokes­woman con­firmed it was the first oc­ca­sion a soldier had been charged with es­pi­onage ‘‘in modern times’’.

A spokes­woman for De­fence Min­is­ter Peeni Henare said the min­is­ter would not com­ment on the mat­ter, as it was be­fore the courts.

Un­der the Crimes Act, a per­son can be charged with es­pi­onage for com­mu­ni­cat­ing or in­tend­ing to com­mu­ni­cate an ob­ject or in­for­ma­tion to a coun­try or or­gan­i­sa­tion out­side New Zealand.

The in­for­ma­tion can in­clude records, doc­u­ments, sketches, pho­to­graphs or sound record­ings.

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