Australia charges man over suspicious foreign mission parcels

Local media quoted court documents saying the substance in the parcels was asbestos a cancer-causing material. — AFP

Local media quoted court documents saying the substance in the parcels was asbestos a cancer-causing material. — AFP

The 48-year-old man was arrested at his home in Shepparton, in the Australian state of Victoria, on Wednesday night, and charged with sending risky articles to be carried by a postal service, police said.

A man was arrested in the Victorian town of Shepparton, with police suspecting that the material sent to diplomatic missions came from his home.

They said the substance was most likely sourced from the man's home.

Authorities are yet to confirm what was in the parcels, but early reports suggested they appeared to contain asbestos.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) says it warned all diplomatic missions in Australia to be on the lookout for suspicious packages prior to yesterday's events in Melbourne, in which a number of consulates received envelopes which appeared to contain asbestos. "There is no ongoing threat to the general public", it added.

The packages were not believed to be risky, but police, fire crews and forensic teams were urged to use breathing apparatus as they documented and double- or triple-bagged the materials for further testing.

He was charged with sending unsafe articles to be carried by postal service and faces a maximum of 10 years in prison if he is found guilty.

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Emergency workers had been seen at consulates belonging to the UK, US, Switzerland, Pakistan, India, Greece, South Korea, New Zealand, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and France, Australian media reported.

The South Korean, Indian and New Zealand consulates in Melbourne were all evacuated after receiving packages.

But at least two consulates in Melbourne did not contact authorities about packages until they received an email from the Australian government.

An official from the Greek consulate told SBS Greek radio they first became suspicious due to the lack of return address.

It subsequently sent similar advice to missions elsewhere.

"After learning of incidents at three offices in Sydney and Canberra, DFAT sent a note to all diplomatic missions in Canberra on 8 January alerting them to the possibility of suspicious packages being delivered by mail", a spokesperson said.

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