Saturday

23rd Oct 2021

China spy suspect worked for EU for 30 years

  • Gerhard Sabathil (l) at a high-level EU-China meeting while he still served in the EU foreign service in 2014 (Photo: eeas.europe.eu)

The former EU ambassador suspected by German prosecutors of spying for China was Gerhard Sabathil, according to EU officials speaking to EUobserver and to US newspaper the Washington Post on condition of anonymity.

The dual German-Hungarian national had served as the EU envoy to South Korea, Germany, Iceland, and Norway prior to going to work for Eutop, a mid-sized lobbying firm with offices in Brussels, Berlin, and Munich, in 2017, where he was still listed as a "managing director" on its website on Friday (17 January).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

He had also been the EU foreign service's charge d'affaires in Bratislava and Prague and its director for east Asia and the Pacific.

And he had worked in the European Commission's competition, industry, budgets, and Western Balkans departments, as well as teaching at the College of Bruges, an elite academy, in an EU career which had spanned "more than 30 years", according to his Eutop biography.

News that a former EU ambassador was suspected of passing commercial secrets to Chinese spies first broke in German daily Der Spiegel on Wednesday, but Der Spiegel did not name him.

For its part, Eutop declined to give EUobserver Sabathil's contact details.

A law firm representing the lobby company also said: "The circumstances [the German investigation] described by you do not concern the activities of our client, [so] we see no reason for our client to comment".

Eutop employs 16 people in its Brussels office, which does about €2.8m of business a year, representing big clients such as British American Tobacco, Deutsche Telekom, General Electric, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Meanwhile, the EU foreign service said it was ready to cooperate with German and Belgian authorities, who had conducted raids on properties in Brussels and Berlin on the case.

No EU buildings had been raided, an EU foreign service spokeswoman said on Thursday.

But "as any diplomatic service, we know we can be the target of hostile intelligence services and we take measures to protect ourselves," she added.

The EU foreign service had a "special cell" which gave "awareness briefings" to staff both in the EU capital and overseas on issues such as how to use social media, she said.

"Staff are properly briefed and sensitised to this risk [of foreign spies]," the EU spokeswoman said.

But both the EU foreign service and the College of Europe removed links to their webpages on Sabathil the same day, in a sign of the PR damage the imbroglio risked causing.

"Mr. Gerhard Sabathil taught in the political and governance studies department for a short period whilst he was working for the EEAS [the European External Action Service], but ... he is no longer linked to the College of Europe," the academy's press service said.

Revolving doors

Senior EU officials often go to work for lobbying firms in Europe in a practice known as 'revolving doors' by pro-transparency NGOs, who say it poses a risk to EU information security and on influence-peddling.

At the same time, the EU foreign service has estimated there are about 250 Chinese and 200 Russian spies in Belgium, according to an internal memo seen by German daily Die Welt.

Belgian intelligence services are responsible for protecting the international institutions there.

But the two Belgian spy services, the VSSE and the ADIV, have just 30 or so counter-intelligence officers investigating Chinese and Russian espionage, according to a Belgian security source who previously spoke to EUobserver.

And the EU foreign service itself has only five or so seconded national experts to help it do counter-intelligence, an EU source added.

Investigation

Spy-air? EU warned on VIP jet leasing

Flying EU and Nato VIPs on part-Chinese jets could be a security risk, some have warned, but that was just a "James Bond" fantasy, the jet company said.

EU warned on 'vigilance' after Davos spy fail

European counter-intelligence services need to "seriously raise the level of vigilance" on Russian spies, UK activist Bill Browder has said after news of a botched operation at Davos.

News in Brief

  1. Russia's anti-vax campaign backfired, EU says
  2. China angered as MEPs call for Taiwan talks
  3. Emissions from La Palma volcano reach Brussels
  4. Body of eighth victim of Belarus border-crisis found in river
  5. Report: Syrian bank fiddling currency to evade EU sanctions
  6. Nato adopts plan to counter new Russian threats
  7. Alleged killer of British MP 'felt affiliated' to IS
  8. Coronavirus: Belgium returns to 'red' zone

Opinion

Why Russia politics threaten European security

Russia could expand hostile operations, such as poisonings, including beyond its borders, if it feels an "existential" threat and there is no European pushback.

Analysis

Ten years on from Tahrir: EU's massive missed opportunity

Investing in the Arab world, in a smart way, is also investing in the European Union's future itself. Let's hope that the disasters of the last decade help to shape the neighbourhood policy of the next 10 years.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew report reveals bad environmental habits
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImproving the integration of young refugees
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals

Latest News

  1. EU states want more Belarus sanctions
  2. Gas price spike exposes rift at EU summit
  3. Poland vows not to give into EU 'blackmail' at summit
  4. EU vows to uphold Paris climate ambition amid scientists' fears
  5. Commissions's new migration pact still seeking 'landing zone'
  6. Europe can't ignore Chinese encroachment in Ukraine
  7. Lithuania - where 'biodiversity funding' is cutting down trees
  8. Dutch lawyers take Frontex to EU court over pushbacks

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us