Impersonating a Commonwealth Public Official – Criminal Law

A former political candidate from South Australia has been denied bail, on charges of importing hundreds of fake Australian Federal Police badges, allegedly in the hope of ‘overthrowing the government’ .

Teresa Angela van Lieshout, 49, was a former candidate from Peterborough in South Australia and previously received an endorsement from Clive Palmer.

She ran unsuccessfully for office with the Palmer United Party and One Nation at various times.

She is a “far right” political candidate who campaigns against vaccinations, confinements and even psychiatry.

She also offered to send ‘mask exemption badges’ to people for a ‘low cost’.

Prosecutors allege she imported 470 fake badges from a foreign manufacturer in Australia.

The badges have been branded to resemble those of the Australian Federal Police.

They claim his aims were to form an ‘alternative’ police force and arrest politicians and civil servants to overthrow the government.

AFP, however, confirmed that there was no evidence that she “had the capacity to commit specific acts of violence.”

She was charged with importing a prohibited importation contrary to section 233(1)(b) of the Customs Act of 1901 (Cth).

The maximum penalty for this offense is two years imprisonment.

Ms van Lieshout came to the attention of police following a federal counter-terrorism investigation sparked by a viral video.

The video was falsely presented as a recording of the AFP commissioner detailing plans to overthrow the federal government and encouraging others to join.

The footage also included claims that Ms van Lieshout was the ‘real Governor General’.

During the investigation into the video, a search warrant was issued at Ms van Lieshout’s residence in Peterborough.

This led to her being accused of misrepresenting herself as a Commonwealth official.

In her last bail application at Adelaide Magistrates’ Court, she claimed she would not attend any “political meeting or public discussion” if released.

Additionally, she claimed a friend could be her guarantor, despite being fined last year for breaking COVID-19 rules.

Ms van Lieshout shouted from the dock that: “he is a man of character and, I assure you, a person of integrity.”

Despite this, Magistrate Brett Dixon ultimately denied bail, telling him that: “your quay assurances carry little weight.”

Ms. van Lieshout replied: “Well, that’s not very respectful.”

She is in custody until her next appearance in court. March.

Impersonating a Commonwealth public official is an offence, unlike subsection 148.1(2) from Penal Code 1995 (Cth).

The maximum applicable penalty is two years’ imprisonment.

However, if the matter proceeds summarily (in local court), a maximum penalty of $13,320 fine and/or 12 months imprisonment is applicable.

A person commits an offense if he or she misrepresents himself as a Commonwealth public official and does so by doing an act or going to a place purporting to be such an official.

It does not matter whether this status of Commonwealth public official exists or is fictitious.

The offense does not apply where it is alleged that the conduct was committed for satirical purposes.

Section 148.1(3) describes an aggravated version of the offence, in which a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment is applicable.

In addition to impersonating or misrepresenting oneself as a Commonwealth public official, it must be done with the intention of:

  • obtain a gain;

  • cause loss; Where

  • influencing the exercise of a public office or function.

If a person is alleged to have gained as a result, the conduct must also have been committed with intent to deceive.

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