An Australian foreign minister with the airs of antipodean aristocracy turns spy for his birth land, using a prized diplomatic posting to pursue oil and gas interests in the Mediterranean.

He’s introduced to an ambitious American up-and-comer through a diplomatic aide with Israeli contacts, and learns of a Russian attempt to nobble a presidential aspirant.

They meet in an upmarket London wine bar that boasts 150 different varieties, but decide that gin and tonic is their tipple of choice.

No, it’s not the blurb on the back of an airport lounge page-turner. It’s the story being spruiked by a convicted liar about Australia’s former high commissioner to the United Kingdom, Alexander Downer.

The real story — or as close to it as can be gleaned — is also intriguing, but the motives ascribed to what went on are far less calculating.

George Papadopoulos, sentenced to 14 days’ prison earlier this month for lying to the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, has had plenty to say about Australia’s former top diplomat in London.

He’s suggested on Twitter that Downer is an operative of MI6, the British secret intelligence service, and that Downer’s companion at drinks was a member of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.

Their meeting at Kensington Wine Rooms in May 2016 has become practically folkloric. It triggered a series of events that is now the subject of the Robert Mueller investigation that began two months later.

So what did happen?

“Alexander Downer did not randomly reach out to me,” Papadopoulos told conservative commentator Sean Hannity on his nationally syndicated radio show in the US this week.

That’s agreed on by all parties. At least sort of.

Erika Thompson, a career diplomat working as a political counsellor at the commission, had a boyfriend called Christian Cantor, the head of the political branch in the Israeli embassy.

Papadopoulos also knew Cantor, describing him as someone “who just hated Trump, he hated his guts”.

Australian sources describe Cantor, who is now engaged to Thompson, as a “liberal internationalist” who’d be no Trump fan.

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