“It’s not an act of belief, it’s an act of fact, if you look at what’s happened in places like Tanzania or South Africa, if you look at what’s happened in Pakistan, or indeed the back doors that have been found in the Vodafone system in Australia, that were listed a number of years ago,” he said on Sky News in the UK.
“This isn’t opinion – this is pretty well reported.”
The remarks infuriated Huawei and Vodafone in Australia, with executives from both companies saying the claims were “rubbish” and unfounded.
“We have no idea where Mr Tugendhat got this idea from. He is simply wrong. There was no such incident,” said Vodafone Australia chief strategy officer Dan Lloyd.
“We have robust systems and controls in place to protect our customers and their privacy.”
A Huawei spokesman said the claims were “absolutely false” because the company had never and would never covertly access its customers’ networks and did not have the capability to do so.
“As evidenced by the Snowden leaks, the United States has been covertly accessing telecom networks worldwide, spying on other countries for quite some time,” the spokesman said.
While the Australian government is seeking to calm the diplomatic row, it is not retreating from its ban on the use of Huawei in new 5G networks, a position also taken by the US.
The British decision to allow Huawei into the networks has been likened to an “act of self-harm” by a key Australian ally, one of the “five eyes” security alliance of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The White House special representative for international telecommunications policy, Robert Blair, said over the weekend Britain should take a “hard look” at its decision to use Huawei equipment.
The US national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, has said the country had evidence Huawei “has the capability secretly to access sensitive and personal information” in the systems it maintains.
The tensions in Australia came after Mr Raab met some of the members of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security during a visit to Canberra in recent weeks.
The Herald and The Age revealed last week that the deputy chair of the committee, Labor MP Anthony Byrne, told Mr Raab that the UK had been wrong to allow the use of Huawei.
That leak drew a response from UK High Commissioner to Australia, Vicki Treadell, in a letter to the chairman of the PJCIS, Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, as well as the chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Liberal Senator David Fawcett.
The tensions led to a decision on Friday morning to postpone a visit to the UK by members of the PJCIS, although this was blamed on technical issues in arranging meetings with members of Parliament in London.
David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.