Tuesday, May 28, 2024

AfD politician’s aide arrested on suspicion of spying for China

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A close adviser to a leading member of Germany’s far-right populist Alternative für Deutschland party (AfD) has been arrested on suspicion on spying for China in the latest high-profile espionage case to have come to light.

The man, identified by prosecutors as Jian G, was accused of “an especially severe instance” of espionage, prosecutors said, following his arrest in the early hours of Tuesday morning. It comes after the arrests of three German citizens accused of industrial spying for China in return for payment.

Maximilian Krah, the AfD’s top candidate in the European parliamentary elections in early June, said in a statement that he found out about the arrest of his employee Jian Guo from the press on Tuesday.

“I do not have further information,” Krah said. He added that “spying activity for a foreign state is a serious allegation” that, if proven, would lead to the employee’s immediate dismissal. Both the AfD’s website and European parliament list Jian Guo as an assistant to Krah.

Maximilian Krah speaking at a rally in Dresden this month. Photograph: Sebastian Kahnert/AP

His arrest in Dresden, where he lives with his wife and family, took place just a week after the chancellor, Olaf Scholz, visited China to work on bilateral economic relations and discuss Beijing’s political and logistical support for Russia in its war on Ukraine.

Prosecutors said the man was aged 43 and had dual German and Chinese citizenship, and said it was believed he had been spying for the Chinese secret services for years. Investigators have accused Guo of spying in particular on Chinese opposition figures living in exile in Germany, having apparently posed as a dissident himself, and passing the information on to a liaison officer.

“He is accused of an especially severe case of working for a foreign secret service,” prosecutors said in a statement released to German media.

Guo had also offered his services to the German intelligence authorities around a decade ago but was turned down amid suspicions he planned to operate as a double agent, prosecutors said.

He came to Germany as a student, later working as a businessman, including for a solar panel company and an LED trader, and became Krah’s assistant in Brussels when he became a member of the European parliament in 2019. Shortly after, he accompanied Krah on a trip to China. He is believed to have been working for Beijing as a spy at this point at the latest, prosecutors said.

In January 2024 he passed on information about negotiations and decisions made in the European parliament, prosecutors said.

As well as demonstrating his enthusiasm for Xi Jinping, Guo was actively involved in criticism towards the so-called white-sheet movement protesting against the Chinese regime. He also set up the organisation Neue Seidenstraße (New Silk Road), which investigators said was little more than an interest group to influence Germany on behalf of the Chinese government.

The German interior minister, Nancy Faeser, said there would be an “exhaustive investigation” of the charges. If they were proved to be true, she said, the case would be nothing less than “an attack on European democracy from within”.

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She said Krah and the AfD would also be potentially culpable. “Whoever employs a staffer such as this, also has responsibility for this,” she said.

A spokesperson for the AfD called the arrest “very disturbing”, adding that the party “will do all it can to help the investigation”.

According to German media, the two spying cases in the last two days are not connected. The head of the domestic intelligence agency said the arrests on Monday – of German nationals suspected of spying for China by providing access to secret maritime technology – could be “just the tip of the iceberg” of spy rings operating in Germany.

China’s foreign ministry on Tuesday rejected reports of Chinese espionage in Germany, saying such “hype” aimed to discredit China. The ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, said at a press conference that China had always adhered to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries and it hoped the “relevant personnel” on the German side would abandon their cold war mentality.

In Britain on Monday, two men were charged with handing over “articles, notes, documents or information” to China between 2021 and 2023. Police named the men as Christopher Berry, 32, and Christopher Cash, 29, who previously worked in the UK parliament as a researcher.

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