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Germany detains trio of ‘spies’ including husband and wife over claims they smuggled military tech including sophisticated laser into China on Beijing’s orders

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Germany has detained a trio of alleged spies over claims they smuggled military technology including a sophisticated laser into China on Beijing‘s orders.

The trio, named as married couple Herwig and Ina F. and their alleged accomplice Thomas R., are accused of taking part in an information-gathering project funded by Chinese state agencies, as well as illegally exporting a laser to China.

Thomas R. is accused of working as an agent for an employee of the Chinese ministry of state security (MSS) and is said to have established contact with Herwig and Ina F., who ran a company in Duesseldorf with expertise in technologies that could be used for military purposes.

The company, called Innovative Dragon, allegedly signed an agreement with a German university to prepare a study for a Chinese ‘contractual partner’ on state-of-the-art machine parts used in powerful ship engines.

The contractual partner was the MSS employee that Thomas R. was working for and the project was financed by Chinese state agencies, according to the prosecutors.

This comes as German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (pictured) today warned of the ‘considerable danger posed by Chinese espionage in business, industry and science’

The trio is also alleged to have smuggled a sophisticated laser with military applications into China, according to the Financial Times. They allegedly did not declare this and get permission from the EU, which is illegal.

This comes as German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser today warned of the ‘considerable danger posed by Chinese espionage in business, industry and science’. 

At the time of their arrest, the suspects were also allegedly in further negotiations about research projects that could be useful for the expansion of China’s maritime combat capabilities.

Herwig and Ina F. lived in a posh high-rise apartment building in Duesseldorf, where their company was also registered at. Innovative Dragons also has a branch in Ludgate Hill in London, according to the company’s website. 

Ina F., who is listed as the company’s general manager, is said to have studied German and political science in Germany. She frequently travels to Asia and previously built and headed several companies, the website states.

Her husband, Herwig F., is Innovative Dragon’s technical director and studied mechanical engineering at university. He claims on the website that he ‘invented and developed 300 innovations with over 150 patents’.

Thomas R. had worked in China for a long time, speaks Mandarin fluently and is married to a Chinese woman, according to German tabloid Bild

The trio’s homes and workplaces have been searched for further evidence and they are due to appear in court for a hearing this week. 

Meanwhile two British men were charged today with handing over ‘articles, notes, documents or information’ to China between 2021 and last year.

Police named the men as Christopher Berry, 32, and Christopher Cash, 29, who previously worked at the UK parliament as a researcher.

Christopher Cash, 29 - a Tory parliamentary researcher and China specialist - has been charged for an offence under the Official Secrets Act

Christopher Cash, 29 – a Tory parliamentary researcher and China specialist – has been charged for an offence under the Official Secrets Act

The suspect (far right) is pictured with Tory MP Alicia Kearns (left) and Steven Lynch, former managing director of the British Chamber of Commerce in China (middle)

The suspect (far right) is pictured with Tory MP Alicia Kearns (left) and Steven Lynch, former managing director of the British Chamber of Commerce in China (middle)

The German arrests and British charges come amid repeated Western warnings of Chinese intelligence services targeting advanced technologies.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser warned of the ‘considerable danger posed by Chinese espionage in business, industry and science’.

‘The area affected in the current case – innovative technologies from Germany that can be used for military purposes – is particularly sensitive,’ Faeser said.

Germany’s first national security strategy, unveiled last year, was noticeably tough on China and accused Beijing of repeatedly acting against Berlin’s interests.

In its 2023 annual report, the German military’s counter-intelligence service (MAD) also warned against potential espionage as China seeks to become a technological world leader by 2049.

In particular, it mentioned joint projects with the German armed forces as a major risk.

German domestic intelligence chief Thomas Haldenwang on Monday said the security authorities were ‘very vigilant’ on the issue of Chinese espionage.

Although he did not want to call the latest case the ‘tip of the iceberg’, Haldenwang said it was ‘certainly part of a very extensive business’.

As well as accusing Beijing of using espionage to gather technological information, multiple Western nations have also accused hacking groups backed by China of a global campaign of cyber espionage targeting critics.

Cash, who insists he is 'completely innocent', grew up in a wealthy suburb of Edinburgh and attended £5,000-a-term George Watson’s College

Cash, who insists he is ‘completely innocent’, grew up in a wealthy suburb of Edinburgh and attended £5,000-a-term George Watson’s College

The United States, Britain and New Zealand in March accused Beijing-backed cyber groups of being behind a series of attacks against lawmakers and key democratic institutions – allegations that prompted angry Chinese denials.

In Britain, the Commons intelligence and security committee last year claimed China was targeting the country ‘prolifically and aggressively’ and that the government did not have the ‘resources, expertise or knowledge’ to deal with it.

Domestic intelligence service MI5 last year warned that a Chinese government agent called Christine Lee had been ‘engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party, engaging with members here at parliament’.

The British pair outed on Monday are accused of breaking the Official Secrets Act 1911 and will appear in a London court on Friday.

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