At the time of his arrest, German public broadcaster ARD reported that Klaus L., who is in his 70s, had also been an informant for Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND, for half a century. He was well-connected with senior officials in the spy agency, according to ARD.
A BND spokesman said it “does not comment on matters that relate to any intelligence information or activities.”
In an indictment filed at a Munich court in May, prosecutors said the political scientist had been running a think tank since 2001. He used networks built up over the years to gain a reputation as an influential figure, prosecutors said in a release. They withheld the full names of both suspects in line with German privacy rules.
The pair were allegedly recruited by members of a Chinese intelligence service while on a lecture tour of Shanghai in June 2010. Between mid-2010 and November 2019, both of them regularly provided Chinese secret service officials with information in the run-up to or after state visits or multinational conferences, prosecutors allege, adding they also offered information on pertinent “current issues.”
The couple procured this information from their numerous “high-level political” contacts obtained through the think tank, prosecutors said. The couple were financially compensated, prosecutors allege, and received paid-for trips to meet with Chinese intelligence employees.
It isn’t clear whether the defendants have retained attorneys. The Chinese Embassy in Berlin didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
Western intelligence and law enforcement officials have previously uncovered other efforts by Chinese agents to connect with foreign citizens, especially those working with government clearances, to try to gain access to nonpublic and classified information.
A Singaporean national, Dickson Yeo, was sentenced last October to 14 months in prison for acting in the United States as an illegal agent of Chinese intelligence. Yeo, who pleaded guilty in July 2020, admitted using social media sites to try to recruit Americans with access to classified government information. (After being deported, he was detained without trial in Singapore.)
Michael Shoebridge, a defense expert at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra, said the recent drastic decline of positive sentiment toward Beijing in many democratic countries has made it tougher for Chinese intelligence to lure recruits.
“It’s making it harder for former officials and politicians to tell themselves and others that there are no dangerously bad moral choices in providing insights to Beijing about the government or agencies and people they have worked with,” said Shoebridge, a former Australian intelligence official. “Money and flattery will still work with some, but it’s no doubt getting harder.”
ARD previously reported that Klaus L. had worked for the Munich-based Hanns Seidel Foundation, which is closely associated with the Christian Social Union, a sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. The foundation, which couldn’t be reached for comment, had been cooperating with authorities since June last year, according to Reuters.
At the time of his arrest, the political scientist had just returned from Italy and was on his way to the airport in Munich, where he planned to fly to Macao with Klara K. to meet his Chinese contacts, German media reported.