A former German diplomat who worked in the EU’s institutions is under investigation along with two lobbyists on suspicion of spying for the Chinese government.
Nine homes and offices in Brussels, Berlin, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria have reportedly been raided by police on behalf of the German federal prosecutor’s office.
The investigation, led by Germany’s attorney general, Peter Frank, is examining the activities of the diplomat since he moved into lobbying two years ago, along with two employees of a second such firm, Der Spiegel reports.
A spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office confirmed the investigation into suspected espionage but declined to offer any details beyond stating that there had not been any arrests.
It is claimed that two of the individuals shared confidential commercial information with the Chinese ministry for state security. The third indicated a willingness to do so, according to Der Spiegel.
The diplomat at the centre of the investigation is reported to have formerly worked in both the EU commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS), the bloc’s foreign affairs wing.
The German magazine reported that he had subsequently been an EU ambassador in “several countries” before ending his EU career in 2017 to join a lobbying company.
The investigation is notable for it being comparatively rare. Last year the EEAS alerted member states to the presence of about 250 Chinese and 200 Russian spies said to be roaming the embassy-lined streets of Brussels. But there are few cases of spies for Beijing being uncovered.
The suspect is said to have started to leak information to his Chinese senior officer in the same year of his move and to have recruited the two other suspects.
One of the two is said to have travelled to China for a meeting with his alleged handler. In a statement, the unnamed lobbyist company said that its employee vehemently denied the allegations made against him.
Last autumn, the US government’s expulsion of two Chinese spies who had driven into a sensitive military base in Norfolk, Virginia was the first such action in 30 years.
In Belgium, in the same year, the head of a Chinese language and cultural institute at VUB (Free University Brussels) was barred from returning following a trip to his home country. The decision to impose a ban was based on concerns that he was considered an espionage threat by the security services.