Three people are under investigation in Germany, suspected of espionage on behalf of China.

No arrests have yet been made, although properties associated with them have been raided.

Prominent German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that the case revolved around a former diplomat for the European Union (EU) – subsequently identified as Gerhard Sabathil – who had represented the body in various countries. He left EU service in 2017, and went to work for Eutop, a lobbying firm.

He is believed to have recruited the other two, who also work as lobbyists.

The erstwhile diplomat and one of his colleagues are accused of having shared ‘private and commercial information with the Chinese ministry for state security.’ The other is accused of having agreed to do so, but not having actually passed information on.

Der Spiegel commented: ‘If the allegations are confirmed, it would be one of the very few cases in which Chinese spies have actually been exposed. There is ongoing talk of China’s large-scale espionage operations in Germany and Europe. In fact, investigators rarely succeed against Beijing’s secret services.’

The EU foreign service estimates that some 250 Chinese agents (as well as 200 Russians) are active in Belgium, which hosts the bodies’ institutions. The Belgian security services are responsible for counter-espionage in the country, but have only around 30 counter-intelligence agents working against Chinese and Russian activities.

Concern about the reach of Chinese intelligence, espionage and influence work has long been of interest and concern to foreign governments and observers. This includes allegations that China has sought to influence media coverage, that it has spied on the African Union through the latter’s computer network, and attempted to have an agent elected to the Australian parliament.

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