Cheng Fan who sent millions of derogatory emails during the 2020 Eden-Monaro by-election making false claims about MP Kristy McBain was handed a 20-month gaol sentence to be served in the community.

The 34-year-old from Blacktown in Sydney, was sentenced on June 2 in Penrith District Court. The court heard Cheng was delusional and suffering a range of mental illnesses when he sent the emails, along with others sent about former Wentworth MP Kerryn Phelps during the 2019 federal election.

The emails were sent to more than 23 million people and successfully landed in the inbox of about a million.

Kristy said the emails contained a lot of false information aimed at convincing people not to vote for her.

“The information ranged from claiming I had covid to some more vicious lies about me and my family.”

They also included untrue claims that the screams of children could be heard from Kristy’s basement and that she had pulled out of the election.

“I knew before running for Parliament that people would criticise my policies and what I was standing for,” she said. “I was shocked at the extent of the lies in these emails and how widespread they were sent.”

Kristy said there was a definite concern for her family but initially she didn’t tell her parents about the emails until family in Victoria brought it up and she realised how serious they were.

Despite the targeted smear campaign, Kristy said she never considered pulling out of the by-election race and if anything, it made her resolve stronger.

From her experiences in 2020, she said she learnt that people across Australia really value our democratic right to vote.

“People outside the electorate, from all across Australia, complained to the AEC about the emails,” she said. “It was this huge influx of complaints that eventually lead to the AFP investigation.”

The court also heard that Cheng sent at least 500 emails which included racist and homophobic slurs about Wentworth candidate Kerryn Phelps.

Cheng pleaded guilty to 12 charges including releasing misleading and deceptive matter in an election period, using a carriage service to menace and dealing in identification information and using it to commit fraud.

He was sentenced to an aggregate of 21 months and released with conditions including to be of good behaviour for three years and orders to undertake mental health treatment.

During sentencing, ABC reported that Judge Karen Robinson said MPs Kristy and Kerryn had feared for their safety after the emails were sent.

“The offending is described by [Kristy] as have shaken her in a way that has made her a more guarded person,” Judge Robinson said.

Cheng is the first person in Australia to be successfully prosecuted and sentenced for breaching electoral laws prohibiting misleading or deceiving Australians when casting their votes, contravening section 329(1) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.

AFP Leading Senior Constable Glen Brazendale said the situation was unique.

“The matter is in many ways unique because no person has been successfully prosecuted for an offence under section 329(1) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918,’’ he said.

“Furthermore, the unique circumstances of the offending in this case have never been prosecuted before: specifically, both the large scale of the offending and the nature of the offending.”

The AFP launched Operation BALAH in June 2020 after a report from the Electoral Integrity Assurance Taskforce (EIAT) and the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), about a mass disinformation campaign leading up to the Eden-Monaro by-election.

The report related to offensive and harassing emails, from apparent legitimate sources, being sent from an unidentified user to members of the public and various organisations.

Cheng’s residence was searched by the AFP in July 2020. At the time of the warrant, Cheng’s computer was actively sending offensive emails.

Items located during the warrant, including SIM cards, were examined and found to be subscribed under different names. Subsequent investigations revealed those individuals had their identification fraudulently obtained by the offender.

Brianna O’Rourke