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Australian thrown out of Vanuatu for 'espionage': report

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SYDNEY (AFP) – An Australian lawyer has been thrown out of the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu after being accused of spying, a report said Wednesday.

Ari Jenshel, 40, worked as a senior adviser in the office of Vanuatu's Attorney-General in Port Vila.

The Australian newspaper said that among claims being investigated by police in Vanuatu was that sensitive government documents had been copied and sent to the Australian government in Canberra.

It cited sources as saying some of the documents related to talks between leaders of Pacific countries, including Vanuatu, to work closely with Fiji's military ruler, Frank Bainimarama.

Bainimarama seized power from an elected government in a 2006 bloodless coup. He has pledged to hold elections in 2014, when he says reforms to pave the way for democracy will be complete.

But international critics, particularly Australia, continue to push for an earlier poll and the hardline position is at odds with the views of Pacific leaders who acknowledge his "roadmap" for change and democracy.

Jenshel, a former Australian Defence Force lawyer, denied espionage.

"I am not a spy and I have never been a spook," he told the newspaper.

"I was removed with scandalously short notice -- it was very Cold War -- after a threat from the Vanuatu government that I would be arrested.

"It's not the first time I have been called a spy. Allegations of spying against foreign advisers in the Pacific are tediously common. But I am not a spy."

In his role as an advisor to the Attorney-General, he said that "I reported on operational matters only to the Vanuatu government, not the Australian government".

Australia funds the secondment of Australian citizens to key positions in Port Vila and other Pacific countries to improve their governance.

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