Former EU official suspected of spying for China

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German prosecutors said on Wednesday (15 January) they were investigating three people who allegedly spied for China, including a former EU diplomat, according to media reports.

“We can confirm an investigation into suspected espionage” for Chinese state security bodies, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office told AFP.

Der Spiegel weekly said one of the suspects was a German diplomat who worked at the European Commission in Brussels before serving several stints as an ambassador for the European Union in foreign countries.

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The other two are reportedly lobbyists employed by a “well-known German lobbying firm”.

Prosecutors refused to provide details about the suspects and said no arrests have been made.

Spiegel reported that police were on Wednesday raiding homes and offices linked to the trio in Berlin, Brussels and the German states of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg.

According to Der Spiegel, prosecutors accuse the former diplomat and one of the lobbyists of “sharing private and commercial information with the Chinese ministry for state security”.

The third suspect apparently only indicated “a willingness to do so”.

The diplomat at the centre of the probe reportedly ended his EU career in 2017 and switched to working for a lobbying firm, where he then recruited the two other suspects.

He is also believed to have visited China in the company of his handling officer. Prosecutors declined to confirm the identity or professions of the three suspects.

The spying is alleged to have started that same year.

“We have seen the report,” a Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV.com “We have no comment at this stage, but of course our services are always ready to cooperate with national authorities conducting investigations that may implicate former staff members,” the spokesperson added.

If the allegations are confirmed, it would be a rare case of Chinese espionage being uncovered.

“Although there is always much talk about large-scale Chinese spying operations in Germany and Europe, investigators are rarely successful against Beijing’s secret services,” Der Spiegel wrote.

The case is the first in recent years involving concrete allegations of spying by China against Germany and the EU. It comes amid growing concern across Europe and the broader West at China’s ramping up of its worldwide spying activity as it builds political influence to match its economic weight.

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Europe should increase its economic assertiveness abroad and put forward a new strategy to face China’s rivalry, as the challenges posed by Beijing are already affecting the way European countries are preparing to compete with global powers, experts and diplomats agreed on Thursday (12 July).

The probe also comes at a time of intense debate in Europe’s top economy about whether or not to exclude Chinese tech giant Huawei from developing Germany’s 5G mobile networks.

Critics, led by Washington, say Huawei is too close to Beijing and its equipment could be used as a tool for spying — an allegation Huawei strongly denies.

US President Donald Trump has already ordered American firms to cease doing business with market leader Huawei and has urged allies to follow suit.

Germany so far has resisted pressure to ban Huawei. Chancellor Angela Merkel has instead said Berlin would insist on stringent security requirements without barring individual companies.

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Europe should be “worried” about Huawei and other Chinese companies, given the mandatory cooperation they have to maintain with Chinese intelligence services, European Commission Vice-President for Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip said on Friday (7 December).

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