Home » Germany and Britain detain suspected Chinese spies

Germany and Britain detain suspected Chinese spies

Germany and the United Kingdom have announced the arrest of people suspected of working as Chinese spies.

Prosecutors in Berlin said on Monday that three German nationals had handed technologies with potential military purposes to Chinese intelligence, with whom they have been working since at least June 2022. The UK said two men had been arrested on suspicion of providing “prejudicial information” to Beijing.

The arrests, which appear to be unconnected, come as Western states continue to express concern over China’s economic and geopolitical policies.

The trio arrested in Germany is also accused of exporting a special laser without permission, which was pinpointed as violating the country’s export laws.

The Chinese embassy in Berlin said Beijing firmly rejected accusations that it carried out spying activities in Germany.

“We call on Germany to desist from exploiting the espionage accusation to politically manipulate the image of China and defame China,” a spokesperson for the embassy said in an emailed statement, the Reuters news agency reported.

The federal prosecutor identified the main suspect as Thomas R, who was described as an agent for a China-based employee of China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS). Herwig F and Ina F – a married couple who run a company in Dusseldorf – were recruited to procure cooperation from researchers.

Through their company, the couple concluded a cooperation agreement with a German university, part of which involved preparing a study for a Chinese contractor on machine parts that can be used for operating powerful marine engines such as combat ships, the statement said.

The Chinese contract partner was the same MSS employee from whom Thomas R received his orders, and all three suspects worked together, Monday’s statement added.

The suspects bought the special laser from Germany on behalf of and with payment from the MSS and exported it to China without authorisation, according to the prosecutors.

German authorities accused the suspects of violating the country’s Foreign Trade and Payments Act (FTPA), which criminalises economic espionage.

They said the alleged cooperation with the Chinese state service began around “an indeterminable date before June 2022”.

All three will be arraigned at the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe, southwest Germany on Tuesday, and could face a fine or imprisonment of up to five or 10 years, according to local media reports.

Growing anxiety

Later on Monday, the UK announced that it had authorised charges against two British nationals alleged to have breached the Official Secrets Act between late 2021 and February 2023.

Christopher Berry, 32, from Oxfordshire, and Christopher Cash, 29, a former parliamentary researcher, were charged with providing prejudicial information to China. They will appear in court in London on Friday, the Crown Prosecution Service said in a statement.

“This has been an extremely complex investigation into what are very serious allegations,” said Commander Dominic Murphy, head of the Counter Terrorism Command at the Metropolitan Police, according to Reuters news agency.

The Chinese embassy called the allegations “completely fabricated” and “malicious slander”, and urged the UK to stop what it described as “anti-China political manipulation”.

The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) said last year that China was targeting the country “prolifically and aggressively” and that the government did not have the “resources, expertise or knowledge” to deal with it.

In September, The Sunday Times newspaper reported that Cash had been arrested for spying while working as a researcher in parliament for Alicia Kearns, a member of the governing Conservative Party and chair of the lower house of parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. In a statement through his lawyer, Cash denied the allegations.

Cash was listed on parliamentary documents from early 2023 as working for Kearns. On Monday, she said she would not comment on the latest developments.

“It is essential that neither I, nor anyone else, say anything that might prejudice a criminal trial relating to a matter of national security,” she posted on X.

There has been growing anxiety in Europe about alleged espionage activity by China.

The arrests in Germany come just days after Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Beijing and conveyed concerns in Europe about Beijing’s economic policies and support for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser called the arrests “a great success for our counterespionage”.

“We are keeping an eye on the significant danger from Chinese espionage in business, industry and science,” she said in a statement. “We are watching these risks and threats very closely and have warned and sensitized people clearly so that protective measures can be stepped up everywhere.”

British intelligence authorities have ratcheted up their warnings about Beijing’s covert activities in recent years.

In 2022, the head of the MI5 domestic intelligence agency, Ken McCallum, named China, Russia and Iran as the leading security threats to the UK. He said Chinese authorities’ attempts to shape British politics included targeting and influencing a range of people in politics, including those early in their political careers.

Last month, several British lawmakers, including leading China critic and former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, told reporters they had long been subjected to attempted hacking and impersonation attempts by hackers linked to the Chinese government.