Australia mum on Indian spies being expelled from country in 2020; New Delhi reportedly uneasy

The reports from Australia came a day after The Washington Post named an Indian RAW official for allegedly plotting to assassinate Sikh extremist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun on American soil last year.
Last Updated : 02 May 2024, 03:37 IST
Last Updated : 02 May 2024, 03:37 IST

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Australia expelled two Indian spies in 2020 for allegedly trying to ‘steal secrets’ about sensitive defence projects and airport security, the Australian media reported on Tuesday.

This news comes on the toes of the Washington Post report that said the then-RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) chief had greenlit the plot to assassinate Sikh separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun on US soil. 

While The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald stated that two Indian spies were booted out, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) refrained from mentioning any number.

Indian officials did not immediately comment on this report, though Indian Express has reported citing sources that there is disquiet in certain Delhi circles at what appears to be a concerted pushback from India’s Western allies. 

"Indian spies were kicked out of Australia after being caught trying to steal secrets about sensitive defence projects and airport security, as well as classified information on Australia's trade relationships," the ABC report said.

This so-called foreign 'nest of spies' disrupted by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) in 2020 was also accused of closely monitoring Indians living in Australia and developing close relationships with current and former politicians, it said. 

The ABC mentioned that ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess first alluded to the spy ring in his annual threat assessment delivered in 2021, but he did not disclose which country was behind the activity.

"The spies developed targeted relationships with current and former politicians, a foreign embassy and a state police service," the report quoted Burgess as saying during his March 2021 speech inside ASIO's Canberra headquarters.

"They monitored their country's diaspora community. They tried to obtain classified information about Australia's trade relationships," he said.

Burgess also detailed how the 'nest of spies' had successfully cultivated and recruited an Australian government security clearance holder who had access to 'sensitive details of defence technology', the ABC report said. 

Australian ministers have, however, tiptoed around the issue refusing to comment on a matter that could potentially damage a burgeoning alliance. 

Australia's prime minister, and foreign, defence and treasury ministers all dodged questions about this with Anthony Albanese saying he wouldn’t comment on intelligence matters, AFP reported. 

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong too refused to comment on ‘intelligence matters’ while stating it was vital to ‘assert the importance of our democratic principles,’ the agency reported, adding that Wong was firm in saying Australia would ‘maintain the resilience of our democracy, including in the face of any suggestion of foreign interference.’ 

The Treasurer said, as per AFP, it was not something he was prepared to go into but stressed Canberra’s good relations with New Delhi. 

While India has not yet commented to the reports coming out of Australia, it has slammed the Washington Post report for making ‘unwarranted and unsubstantiated' imputations on a serious matter. The same report also mentioned Indian spies being expelled from Australia. 

India has thus far seen Western leaders attempting to bolster trade and defence ties with the nation, with Albanese wooing PM Narendra Modi, calling him the ‘boss’. 

However, in Modi’s time, India has also seen relations with Canada worsen after PM Justin Trudeau publicly linked Indian intelligence to the killing of a Sikh separatist - a Canadian citizen - on Canadian soil, an allegation New Delhi has labelled as ‘absurd’. 

(With PTI inputs)

Published 02 May 2024, 03:37 IST

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