Soldier faces multiple charges of espionage
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.