The Press

Soldier faces multiple charges of espionage

- Florence Kerr and Thomas Manch

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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