Australian soldier and her husband accused of spying for Russia

An Australian soldier and her husband accused of spying for Russia were denied bail on Friday, the first charges against suspected agents under Australia’s sweeping 2018 espionage laws.

Kira Korolev, 40, and her husband, Igor Korolev, 62, are Russian-born Australian citizens and hold Russian passports. They did not appear in person and were represented by lawyers in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on a charge of preparing an espionage offence.

They have not filed a plea and are scheduled to appear in federal court on September 20. Their attorneys have not made any public statements.

Australian Federal Police Chief Reece Kershaw had previously told reporters the pair allegedly “worked together to gain access to Australian Defence Force material relating to Australia’s national security interests.”

“We allege that they requested that information with the intent to provide it to Russian authorities. Whether that information was turned over remains a key focus of our investigation,” Kershaw said.

Five Eyes can trust Australia: Commissioner

Kershaw said there had been “no significant compromise” identified. Australia’s Five Eyes intelligence-sharing partners — the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand — can be confident that Australian authorities will continue to identify and disrupt espionage.

The Russian embassy rejected the allegations in a statement, saying it was “clearly intended to unleash a new wave of anti-Russian paranoia in Australia”. It added that the embassy had requested official information from authorities.

Although the couple are the first suspected agents to be charged under modernized espionage laws that also ban covert foreign interference in domestic politics, Australian security services have stopped suspected Russian spies in recent years.

Australia had quietly expelled a large Russian spy ring, made up of embassy and consulate staff as well as other secretive agents, an intelligence agency official and media said last year.

Police arrested the Korolevs at their Brisbane home on Thursday. She is an Australian Defence Force information systems technician and her husband is a self-employed worker. They moved to Australia more than a decade ago. The woman became an Australian citizen in 2016 and her husband in 2020.

Police allege the woman secretly travelled to Russia in 2023 while on extended leave from the Australian Army. The husband allegedly accessed the woman’s work account from their Brisbane home and asked her for confidential information in Russia.

“You’re getting caught”

Mike Burgess, secretary-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation secret service, declined to say how authorities were tipped off. But the Australian Defence Force’s security awareness “enabled us to intervene early and control the operation,” Burgess said.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Australia’s security services were up to the challenge of the growing espionage threat, citing the recent extensions of both Burgess’ and Kershaw’s contracts as evidence of his confidence.

“They are on top of these issues. If you take action that is against Australia’s national interest, you will be caught by our security services,” Albanese said.

A handful of people stand outside a modern building.
Media representatives gathered outside the Brisbane Watch House in Brisbane on Friday as a 40-year-old woman and her 62-year-old husband appeared in court after being charged with “preparing an espionage offence”. (Patrick Hamilton/AFP/Getty Images)

The defense did not answer questions from the Associated Press, including what the soldier’s job was and when she was recruited, citing the lawsuit and military privacy obligations.

Such serious allegations typically result in a member being suspended and immediately banned from bases and information and communications technology systems, a defense statement said.

The charges against each suspect carry a potential maximum prison sentence of 15 years if either is convicted. If sufficient evidence is found that the information was shared with Russia, the charges could be upgraded and the potential maximum prison sentences upon conviction would be 25 years or life.

Russia accused Australia last year of “Russophobic hysteria” for terminating a lease on land where Moscow wanted to build its new embassy. The Australian government said the site posed a security risk because it was too close to parliament.

Burgess warned foreign spies: “Where we can support a prosecution we will.”

While the couple are the first to be charged under the espionage section of the 2018 laws, two Australians have been charged with foreign interference under the same set of security reforms, which were designed to counter China’s attempts to shape Australian government policy.

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