Australia’s defence minister was secretly investigated by his own department over a friendship with a Chinese-born woman, with military spies called in to access his computer data, a newspaper reported on Thursday.
Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon was investigated over ties to wealthy Chinese-born Sydney businesswoman Helen Liu, 48, who has past financial links with Beijing, The Age newspaper said.
An official from the secretive Defence Signals Directorate accessed Fitzgibbon’s office computer systems and found Liu’s banking details, the paper said. His rents a home from her family in Canberra. Fitzgibbon’s office declined to comment.
The defence department said its chief, Nick Warner, and military commander Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston have ordered an inquiry.
The investigation could embarrass Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and called into question the behaviour of some of the country’s most sensitive security agencies, former defence official and security analyst Alan Behm said.
“It is not for a public service department to unilaterally undertake a review of its own minister or of the government. When that starts to happen, then we begin to erode fundamentally the principles by which we govern ourselves,” Behm told state radio.
“If true, it’sa most extraordinary development.”
The minister's father, former national lawmaker Eric Fitzgibbon, said his family had known Liu’s family for 16 years. “The relationship, the friendship, goes back a long way and to suggest that there’s some danger to Australian defence from me or Joel to be associated with the Liu family is just plainly ridiculous,” he said on state radio.