Anne-Marie Brady, professor at the University of Canterbury. Photo/Michael Craig
Police investigating burglaries of the home and office of a prominent researcher into China’s foreign influence campaigns have officially requested help from spy agencies and received briefings on how to handle the claims of ‘diplomatic immunity.
the revelations come after the Ombudsman forced the police to release some documents after Weekend Herald Requests for information under the Official Information Act have been repeatedly refused over the past three years.
Anne-Marie Brady, a professor at the University of Canterbury, complained in February 2018 of unexplained break-ins to her home and office, sparking a year-long investigation by police led by the secret team and powerful national security investigations.
Since the publication of Brady’s Magic Weapons article in 2017 – mapping China’s influence in New Zealand through NGOs, political donations and board appointments – she has been a leading international commentator on Chinese foreign policy and was stage-verified by Hilary Clinton during a 2018 Public Address in Auckland.
Documents from the ‘Operation Brady’ police file show that staff working on the case were briefed in May 2018 on how to handle declarations of diplomatic immunity from embassy or government personnel. consulate, with instructions to keep the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed of any such development.
Diplomatic immunity is a long-standing legal principle that protects embassy and consulate staff from prosecution or legal action in their host country.
In December 2018, police wrote to the New Zealand Security and Intelligence Service regarding Operation Brady and described Brady’s complaints the case could be a spy case: “She alleges the burglary of her home family, her office, and unlawful interference with her vehicle. Complainant believes that the Chinese government is orchestrating these violations….Any insight or information you may be able to provide would be appreciated.”
The investigation was apparently stalled in February 2019 – after a year of police work that also involved liaising with Interpol and Brady’s office at the University of Canterbury being bug-swept – with a statement that the case was “unsolved”.
A summary of the investigation prepared when the matter was put on hold and forwarded to the Weekend Herald in 2020 noted, “Police retain certain forensic samples which may lead to identification in the future. Police have no evidence as to the identity of those responsible for the reported offences.”
Key agencies and the Wellington Embassy of the People’s Republic of China declined to answer questions about Operation Brady or the assertion of diplomatic immunity.
Bin Zong, spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in New Zealand, this week released the PRC’s first comment on the case since Brady revealed details of the burglaries during testimony in February 2018 before the Australian Senate on Foreign Interference.
“The claims regarding the case are baseless and absurd, and the embassy will not honor these claims with any response,” Bin said.
A police spokesperson reiterated a statement first issued in February 2019 when they said their investigation had run out of leads: “The investigation into Brady’s allegations remains open and is not unresolved at this time. Police continue to assess information in the case. However, we will not discuss details regarding the investigation.”
A spokesman for spy and security agency NZSIS said their agency sometimes supports the police, but would not give details of their involvement in Operation Brady. “NZSIS has a longstanding approach of not commenting on specific operational issues or individual cases,” the spokesperson said.
Former police officer Tim McKinnel said the inclusion of a diplomatic immunity briefing was “unusual” for a burglary case, and raised the possibility that the investigation was considering the possibility that suspects or persons of interest may be entitled to such protections.
“I don’t think there’s any protection against an ongoing investigation, but it can make it difficult to progress from an investigation to a prosecution,” McKinnel said.
Brady told the Weekend Herald she was unable to add further information to the published information, but noted, “It is telling and significant that the police were advised of diplomatic immunity.”
McKinnel said the Brady operation left in limbo was likely to be unsatisfactory for all parties.
“Certainly from the victim’s perspective, it’s deeply troubling. Brady is a pretty credible complainant, and you’d like to think that if anything that could have been done to resolve it was done,” he said .
“But due to the sensitive nature of diplomacy issues, it can be difficult for police to disclose: this leaves Brady in a difficult position.”
Brady herself described the break-ins as “shocking” and their purpose appeared to be intimidation, but supported the actions taken so far by police and NZSIS.
“No valuables were taken, including a large sum of cash and jewelry left in plain sight. Only research-related items were taken, such as laptops and a cell phone” , she said.
The Ombudsman’s decision on the Weekend Herald The complaint about the failure to disclose more information largely sided with the police. The ombudsman cited provisions of the Official Information Act aimed at protecting the integrity of criminal investigations and said police objected to publishing even the titles or descriptions of certain documents.
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