Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for Australia/Oceania

Newsline: Venezuela called to appear in Canberra court over missed embassy rent payments

The Republic of Venezuela has been taken to court by a Canberra family who alleges the country owes them thousands in unpaid rent money. The Rosa family claimed the South American nation had missed more than $50,000 in rent payments for two properties in O’Malley it had previously used as an embassy. (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-28/venezuela-called-to-appear-in-canberra-court-over-missed-rent/11151010) In documents seeking a hearing in the ACT Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the family claimed that from 2017 the republic began to fall behind in payments, and eventually vacated under contentious circumstances. In October of that year, the embassy made headlines when its landlord blockaded the entrance using a construction vehicle. Things boiled over when top Venezuelan skier Cesar Augusto Baena Sierraalta struck the landlord, claiming the man had showed disrespect for his country. Mr Sierraalta pleaded guilty and was released on a good behaviour order, with no conviction recorded.

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Newsline: Canberra Moroccan embassy employee claims underpayment

The Moroccan embassy is locked in a dispute with an employee who claims to have been underpaid and overworked while in Canberra. Khalid Nassih said he was not paid in the the first six months he worked for the embassy, was forced to sleep in a laundry at the embassy residence, and regularly worked excessively long shifts. Mr Nassih said the embassy threatened to revoke his visa after his Australian-born wife challenged it to repay money owed to her husband. (https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6063130/moroccan-embassy-staffer-claims-he-has-been-underpaid-overworked/?src=rss) The embassy rejected the allegations in a statement to The Canberra Times. However, embassy employees have since met with Mr Nassih’s wife, and agreed to increase his pay, cover some recent medical expenses and specify working hours as part of a new employment contract.

Newsline: New Zealand Diplomat Found Guilty of Planting Camera in Embassy Toilet

A former top-tanking New Zealand official has been found guilty of planting a secret camera in a unisex bathroom at the country’s U.S. embassy. Alfred Keating was the highest ranking official at New Zealand’s embassy in Washington D.C. when the camera was discovered in 2017. Auckland District Court heard earlier this month that the camera was hidden in a heating duct and was only found by a staff member when the device fell onto the floor and they spotted a tiny camera lens. (https://www.thedailybeast.com/alfred-keating-new-zealand-diplomat-found-guilty-of-planting-camera-in-unisex-us-embassy-toilet) It was covered in a layer of dust which suggested it had been there for some time. New Zealand police found over 700 deleted files and 20 existing files on the memory card, including 19 images of people using the bathroom. Keating’s DNA matched traces found on the memory card in the camera. He now faces up to 18 months in prison and will be sentenced on 25 June.

Newsline: New Zealand naval officer on trial over secret camera in embassy bathroom

One of New Zealand’s former top-ranked military officials is on trial in Auckland charged with planting a secret camera in a unisex bathroom at the country’s embassy in Washington. Alfred Keating, 59, was a commodore in the New Zealand navy and was one of the country’s most senior naval officers before he resigned in 2018 following the allegations. He denies all charges. (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/09/top-new-zealand-naval-officer-on-trial-over-secret-camera-in-embassy-bathroom) Keating was serving as a defence attache at New Zealand’s embassy in Washington when a small, covert camera was discovered in a unisex bathroom after it fell out of a hiding spot in a heating duct on 27 July, 2017. The crown alleges the motion-activated camera was positioned to capture intimate video recordings of anyone using the toilet, and the case was not one of espionage or spy activity. Crown prosecutor Henry Steele told the court that investigators began to suspect Keating after examining the buildings swipe card records, the New Zealand Herald reported. In November 2017 police searched Keating’s home in New Zealand and found searches on his laptop for the security company BrickHouse Security, whose logo was found on the hidden camera, and also searches for how to “set up” a secret camera, the New Zealand Herald reported. Keating’s Fitbit watch was also seized, Steele said, and “extremely strong scientific support” suggested male DNA found on the memory card inside the camera matched Keating’s. Ron Mansfield, Keating’s lawyer, said despite the salacious nature of the case the allegations were weak and would disappoint jurors, who had been warned to keep some matters of “national security” secret during the trial, such as the detailed lay-out of the embassy in Washington. The trial is expected to last about two weeks.

Newsline: New Zealand’s new embassy in China a ‘significant diplomatic’ space

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand’s new $50 million embassy in Beijing, China is “one of our most significant diplomatic spaces”. The compound features a whare replete with tukutuku panels carved by a Māori carver, but have done away with the tennis courts. It was a project which began under former Prime Minister John Key, but has been formally opened by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. (https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/111675940/new-zealands-new-embassy-in-china) “This is a significant event for New Zealand, you’ll see from this building that this is one our most significant diplomatic spaces we have abroad,” she said. “It demonstrates the importance of the relationship and the strength of the relationship going forward.”

Newsline: Indonesia calls in Australian ambassador

Indonesia called in its Australian ambassador to convey strong condemnation over Fraser Anning’s statements linking the shooting to fears about immigration. (https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2019/mar/18/new-zealand-mosque-attack-police-search-homes-in-nsw-in-connection-with-shooting-live) Speaking on Mar. 18, Australian senator Fraser Anning refused to apologise over the original comments he made, he repeated his calls for a ban on Muslim immigration and said he is not sorry for hitting the 17-year-old boy who egged him.

Newsline: U.S. diplomat accuses China of using ‘pay-day loan diplomacy’

China’s is using “pay-day loan diplomacy” to exert influence in the Pacific, the new U.S. ambassador to Australia said on Mar. 13, comments that threaten to inflame regional tensions. Late last year U.S. Vice President Mike Pence accused China of ensnaring tiny island nations in foreign aid “debt traps”. New U.S. Ambassador to Australia Arthur Culvahouse said Pence’s criticism was not strong enough. “I would use stronger language – I would use payday loan diplomacy,” Culvahouse told reporters in Canberra after presenting his diplomatic credentials to Australia’s Governor-General. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-pacific/china-using-pay-day-loan-diplomacy-in-the-pacific-u-s-diplomat-idUSKBN1QU0CG) “The money looks attractive and easy upfront, but you better read the fine print,” he said. Lenders of pay-day loans typically charge a higher interest rate. Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China’s cooperation with Pacific island countries was good for both parties and broadly welcomed by these countries.