Pre-trial hearing for soldier facing espionage charges starts today

6:39 am on 27 September 2021

A soldier facing charges of espionage at the Linton Military Camp in Palmerston North is back in court today.

New Zealand Army soldiers inside an Australian Army vehicle during the mission rehearsal exercise for Task Group Taji 3 at RAAF Edinburgh, with about 300 Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen prepared for deployment to Iraq in exercise at RAAF Edinburgh in Adelaide, South Australia.

Photo: NZDF / Supplied

The man, who has interim name suppression, was arrested in December 2019, amid suspicion he was part of a far-right extremist group.

A year later, the director of Military Prosecutions laid 17 charges in the Court Martial of New Zealand against the soldier.

They include four charges of espionage, two of attempted espionage, two of possession of an objectionable publication and three of accessing a computer system for a dishonest purpose.

He also faces one charge of doing an act likely to prejudice service discipline or bring discredit to the service, one charge of negligently failing to perform a duty and four charges of failing to comply with written orders.

Further details about the allegations are unknown, including what information the soldier obtained and for which country or foreign organisation he shared it with.

A procedural pre-trial hearing is being held today at Linton Military Camp, the country's largest army base, ahead of the soldier's court martial set down for 6 October.

It is expected a judge will hear submissions and make decisions on name suppression, admissibility of evidence and the media's access to October's trial.

It has been nearly half a century since any New Zealander faced charges related to military spying or espionage.

The late Bill Sutch, a civil servant who headed a major government department, was accused of being a Soviet agent but acquitted after a trial in 1975.

He was formally exonerated of suspicion by Helen Clark when she was prime minister despite the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) never accepting his innocence.

The Linton soldier, aged 27 at the time of his arrest, faces up to 14 years in jail for the crimes he is accused of.

The court martial will be fronted by three members of the military, who have authorisation to view classified information.