Australia's intelligence group and authorities raided a lawmaker's residence on Friday as they dug into reported Chinese influence operations as Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned the government does not tolerate foreign political meddling.
The latest development added to many weeks of rising frictions between China and Australia, in part sparked by the latter accusing China of economic coercion and stoking fears over spying.
On Friday, police searched properties connected to New South Wales policymaker Shaoquett Moselmane, who has long faced accusations of being involved with China's ruling Communist Party.
Moselmane, who is a member of the opposition Labor Party, is yet to issue a public statement. Moselmane's leader, Jodi McKay, disclosed media reports that the raids involved possible accusations of Chinese state influence within Moselmane's office were "dreadfully concerning," BBC News reported, as posted on Yahoo News.
In an interview with the the press, McKay said the investigation needs to run its course and Moselmane "will not sit in our caucus," BBC added. Morrison stated he could not go into the full details of the probe but it had been ongoing for some time.
In a confirmation to AFP, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation said that search warrant activity is taking place in Sydney as part of the ongoing investigation. The ASIO added there was no specific threat to the community with regards the issue with Moselmane, whose pro-Beijing stance has long raised eyebrows even among his colleagues in the Labor Party.
But Moselmane's family described the Lebanon-born lawmaker as a "very respectable man" who is targeted by racism, and that authorities would not find any proof of his alleged ties with the Chinese communist party. The family also accused Moselmane's Labor Party colleagues of being "cowardly for not sticking up for" him, Riyaz ul Khaliq of Anadolu Agency news, reported.
Moselmane has publicly lauded China's president Xi Jinping's "unswerving" leadership in the time of the global health crisis, contrasting it favorably with the Australian government's own response.
According to local media, the lawmaker hired an employee who trained at Beijing's Chinese Academy of Governance, a school of party members embarking on public service, and made nearly a dozen trips to the Chinese mainland.
Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald, which first reported the accusations against Moselmane, disclosed that the probe had been ongoing for months. No accusations had been proven, it reported.
Relations between China and Australia have been sour since Canberra called for a probe into the origins of the pandemic. Beijing has imposed economic sanctions against Australia in the past weeks.