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Foreign interference charge against businessman Alexander Csergo awaiting attorney-general’s ‘consent’, court told

The federal attorney-general’s department is yet to decide whether to continue with the prosecution of an Australian businessman accused of foreign interference nearly six months after he was arrested, a Sydney court has heard.

Alexander Csergo, 55, has been in custody since he was arrested in Bondi in April.

He is facing one count of reckless foreign interference and is the first person to be charged with the offence, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years’ jail.

The case has been repeatedly delayed and his lawyers have expressed frustration about being “drip fed” the brief of evidence against their client.

Mr Csergo is accused of being paid to compile reports in China for two people he knew as “Ken” and “Evelyn” regarding Australian defence, economic and national security arrangements.

However, his lawyers have insisted he worked only with open source, publicly available material.

On Wednesday, Downing Centre Local Court heard the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was seeking a 10-week adjournment, prompting Mr Csergo to let out repeated sighs as he appeared via audio-visual link.

Syed Shah, for the Commonwealth DPP, said the Crown was waiting on the attorney-general’s department to “consent” to continuing with the prosecution — something which ordinarily requires an eight-week turnaround.

“Essentially, this is a very complex matter,” he told the court.

“It’s a foreign interference offence, and it is very serious. The brief is large.”

The court heard there were more than 1,200 pages of statements involved, along with telephone intercepts, text messages and email communications which the department will need to view and consider.

“Are you telling me … in the event the attorney-general declines to prosecute, these charges will be withdrawn?” Deputy Chief Magistrate Sharon Freund asked.

“We don’t have any indications on the process on how they go about consenting to the prosecution,” Mr Shah replied.

‘No evidence’ to connect Csergo to wrongdoing, lawyer says

Bernard Collaery, Mr Csergo’s lawyer, said without the “consent” of the attorney-general the charge would fall away.

He said he only received a letter from a representative with carriage of the matter last night and it hadn’t yet gone to the department.

Mr Collaery said police had provided some further material but “nothing of any particular interest to us” in terms of establishing the precise allegation.

Lawyer Bernard Collaery said there was no evidence against his client.(AAP: Lukas Coch)

Mr Csergo had significant involvement in “software development”, according to Mr Collaery, and was “of interest, one can say broadly, to the intelligence services on both sides of the South China Sea”.

He returned to Australia in February to see his mother, who was present in court, before being detained by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

Mr Collaery reiterated that his client’s consultancy reports were derived from open source material, with some of his own commentary added.

“Perhaps the only offence this man can be accused of is plagiarism,” he told the court.

Mr Collaery said authorities had “analysed years of this man’s life”, with thousands of pages of WeChat messages and device reports.

“There’s serious public concern about this matter because there is no evidence put to us yet that we can connect to some sinister wrongdoing by this man.”

The case was adjourned until October 18 so further evidence about the cause of the delays can be considered by the court.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-10-04/nsw-businessman-alexander-csergo-accused-of-foreign-interference/102933340 Foreign interference charge against businessman Alexander Csergo awaiting attorney-general’s ‘consent’, court told

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