Alarm over federal MP’s trips to ‘seedy’ Asian locations
A federal government MP's frequent trips to seedy neighbourhoods in South East Asia have been scrutinised by police amid concerns he could be exposed to blackmail.
The Australian Federal Police launched inquiries after a government financial intelligence agency noticed the MP was sending money to multiple accounts in the region.
Checks revealed he was visiting "dangerous" neighbourhoods notorious for prostitution and drugs.
No evidence of criminality was uncovered, but it is understood that inquiries were inhibited because investigators could not access encrypted messages the MP sent online.
AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin briefed the country's most senior bureaucrat, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Martin Parkinson, over concerns about the MP's trips.
It is understood that the AFP held fears the MP, who cannot be named for legal reasons, could remain a target of blackmail or extortion.
The Herald Sun has been told the MP, who had travelled as a private citizen on his personal passport, was given official warnings about the risks of travel to specific areas in the country he was visiting.
While the detail of his activities are unknown, government officials are understood to have been "deeply uneasy".
The AFP also received a later alert from another senior federal MP who thought it necessary to pass on information after being privately contacted by an embassy official, amid concerns within Australia's diplomatic ranks.
The Prime Minister's Office said on Thursday night that that referral had come from a Labor MP.
According to well-placed sources, concern about the matter was an open secret within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
In correspondence with Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton earlier this year, the AFP said it had finished its inquiries and was closing the case, but warned the MP could still be a target for compromise by foreign interests.
The Herald Sun is not suggesting there is any evidence of the MP being guilty of an offence, only that his travel and activities abroad raised serious enough concern that he could be compromised.
The MP's future was discussed within Coalition ranks, but the government could not reveal details of the case to the individual or the party while AFP inquiries were continuing.
The Herald Sun has put a series of questions to the PMO, PM & C, DFAT, the AFP, Austrac, and Mr Dutton.
Asked whether the AFP had briefed Mr Parkinson on the matter, a PM & C spokesman said: "As a matter of policy, the department … does not comment on matters that may or may not be under investigation by the AFP or any other investigative agency."
An AFP spokesman said it "does not confirm or deny who it may be investigating".
Asked whether he received a letter from the AFP advising that the MP was a possible target for compromise by foreign interests, Mr Dutton's office did not wish to comment.
A DFAT spokesman said: "On occasion, the department … is approached by individuals seeking travel advice.
When this occurs, the department refers individuals to the relevant Smartraveller advice."
The PMO said: "We are aware of an allegation made by a Labor frontbencher that has been discredited and dismissed by the AFP."