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The spy and the big sting

Encounters with espionage agents are always edgy and intriguing. Aside from the thrill of a clandestine rendezvous, there is also the fact that many are rather dishy in person and often have hefty expense allowances.

Modesty and concern for my testicles precludes me naming names, but over the past quarter century some of my most spectacular lunches have been courtesy of the station chief of various foreign intelligence services.

Personal experience aside, the subject of spooks reared its quirky head last week in a startling way, both across the border in Vietnam and down under in Australia.

In a case that beggars belief, a suave and highly educated spy called Luong Ngoc Anh not only took an alleged $20 million off the Australians, but ravished one of the country’s top trade envoys.

Only now, more than 10 years later, are details of the gigantic state-backed sting unfolding in the Melbourne Magistrates Court.

Colonel Anh, whose name is pronounced “Ang”, works in the Ministry of Public Security – the polite name for Vietnam’s national intelligence agency, and he has political connections right up to the Politburo level.

Although a poor country boy by birth, his natural abilities set him apart, and after being spotted by cadres in the ruling Communist Party, he was sent off to study at Melbourne’s Monash University.

He focussed on communication technology, and after returning to Hanoi, his spymeisters helped him set up a front organisation called the Company For Technology & Development.

Its purpose, aside from gathering data on other countries, was to attract foreign investment in sensitive sectors like banking, defence services and information technology.

Anh excelled in all these areas, but his greatest coup came when he met the senior trade representative for Australia, a blowsy blonde bombshell called Elizabeth Masamune.

Soon after she was posted to Hanoi in June 1999, she met Anh, who quickly appreciated the delectable opportunities she offered.

He showered her with gifts, including perfume, a DVD player and a television, according to court disclosures, and he had Masamune between the sheets before you could say “Struth, what a ripper!”

At that time, as Masamune admitted in court last month, she was “‘having problems in my marriage and I liked Anh”. He had more than sex on his mind, however.

He knew Masamune’s career hinged on winning contracts for Australian companies in Vietnam and he knew he could persuade his ministry to steer some deals her way.

Because of the kudos such deals would bring her, he knew that she would be even more beholden to him.

Plus, he knew that she had access to classified Australian government briefings that his intel chiefs would love to learn about.

Most piquant of all, he knew that he could ask for a meaty commission on any of the deals he lined up for Masamune.

His big pay-off came when Securency, a subsidiary of the Reserve Bank of Australia, made a bid for a contract to print new plastic banknotes for Vietnam.

Anh told Masamune that he could ensure Securency got the contract, but that they would have to pay him a little sweetener first.

Relaying this to Securency, the enraptured trade envoy said this was the price of doing business in Vietnam – and so the company, according to police allegations, paid about $20 million in bribes to Anh.

More perplexing than the way an Australian government-linked company would consider making illicit payments of such magnitude is the fact that Canberra knew Anh was a spy long before he met Masamune.

Well, to cut to the chase: Securency got the contract, Masamune got a performance bonus, Anh got his hefty “tip” – and possibly, although we will never know for sure, some secret information.

Masamune has now been taken to court, but none of her superiors in the ministry or the intelligence services has yet been summoned.

No action, of course, has been taken against Anh.

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