SYDNEY: Chinese spies sought to fund candidates for Australia's centre-left Labor opposition party in an upcoming federal election, but the plot was foiled by the Australian national security agency, multiple media outlets reported on Friday (Feb 11).
The plot was arranged by an unnamed businessman with strong Chinese connections who sought to fund candidates in the state of New South Wales in exchange for influence in public office, said the reports.
But it was detected and stopped by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), the reports added, without giving details of the alleged plot such as timing or how it was thwarted. A Chinese intelligence service was behind the plot, said the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, citing unnamed security sources.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation and broadsheet the Australian also ran reports about the alleged plot.
China said it had never interfered in Australia's internal affairs. The media reports were "not worth refuting", Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing.
The reports come as national security looms as a major campaign issue in a federal election due by May. The ruling conservative Coalition is trailing in most polls and recently accused Labor of being the preferred party of China.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said he was confident that none of his candidates was compromised because he had spoken to ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess "and he has reaffirmed that he has not raised concerns about any of my candidates".
"I understand the government's desperate for distractions at the moment, but I say to them that national security is too important to engage in game-playing," he told reporters.
In a speech on Wednesday, Burgess had made a general reference to "multiple" foreign countries seeking to interfere with Australian governments and referred to one "puppeteer" who had acted on behalf of an unnamed government to identify and bankroll candidates who would act, without their knowledge, in the interests of the foreign power.
The puppeteer referred to by Burgess was acting on behalf of China, said the reports on Friday.
An ASIO spokesperson referred Reuters to a transcript of Burgess' speech and declined to comment further.
The Chinese embassy in Canberra did not respond to an email requesting comment.