CANBERRA, Australia -- A former senior Australian intelligence official appeared in court on Wednesday charged with illegally taking secret documents from his Canberra office to his home two decades ago.
Roger Uren, 72, appeared in the Australian Capital Territory Magistrates Court where lawyers discussed how they would handle classified documents that could be tendered as evidence.
The charges laid four years after the documents were found in Uren’s Canberra home and 14 years after they were removed from the Office of National Assessments -- the prime minister’s intelligence agency -- are seen by critics as evidence of a growing government preoccupation with secrecy.
Attorney-General Christian Porter has launched a legal process to prevent information “likely to prejudice national security” from being made public in Uren’s court hearing.
The documents date back to before Uren resigned as Office of National Assessments’ assistant director in 2001.
He is the husband of U.S. citizen Sheri Yan, who was sentenced in the U.S. District Court in New York in 2016 to 20 months in prison after she pleaded guilty to bribing the U.N. General Assembly's then-President John Ashe.
Australian Security Intelligence Organization agents investigating potential Chinese Communist Party links to Australian politics raided the Canberra home of Uren and his lobbyist wife in October, 2015, and again in September the following year. The agents say they discovered sensitive documents.
He was arrested at his home in October last year. Uren faces 32 charges of unauthorized dealing with records under the Intelligence Services Act and one charge of unauthorized dealing with records under the Australian Security Intelligence Organization Act. Each charge carries a potential maximum sentence of three years in prison.
Uren’s lawyers argue he copied the documents so he could continue working on them at home. No one else ever saw them, the lawyers say.
Uren’s bail conditions were relaxed to allow him to visit his wife in China over Christmas. She is caring for her elderly parents in Beijing.
Magistrate Glenn Theaskston on Wednesday restored the bail conditions that prevent Uren leaving Australia. The magistrate also returned the title deeds to two houses that Uren had offered as surety while he was overseas.
Uren was continued bail until his next court appearance on April 1.
Prosecutor Daniel Johns and defense lawyer Noor Blumer will attempt to agree on draft court orders to restrict the disclosure and handling of sensitive documents in the case.
The magistrate will make those orders if he finds the agreed draft acceptable. If the lawyers can’t agree, the magistrate will decide on what information can be made public.