‘Economic spy network’ across Europe
A network of Chinese students coordinated from Belgium is believed to be carrying out industrial espionage in several northern European countries, according to a think-tank known as the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Centre.
In its latest bi-monthly letter, the centre quoted unnamed European intelligence sources as saying that that an "economic spy network" was being run from an educational institution in Belgium and had been under surveillance for two years.
The ring, the sources said, uses a group of students and internship seekers as a "front organisation", with no obvious links to Chinese diplomats, and dozens of these agents are planted around northern Europe.
The report listed the Netherlands, Britain, Germany and France as places where the ring is operating and said that "it is trying today to plant moles in central Europe."
Targeting laboratories and universities
"Its main targets: laboratories and big universities," the centre said.
The French newspaper Le Monde identified the front group as "The Chinese Students and Scholars Association of Leuven" (CSSAL), which it said was made up of 400 to 700 students and researchers at Leuven’s Flemish Catholic University.
The revelation follows the case of a 22-year-old Chinese woman who is being investigated in France for spying on the big car parts maker Valeo, which employed her.
The woman, identified as Li Li Whuang, was placed in preventive detention in France in late April after Valeo filed a complaint for "abuse of confidence" and "illegal database intrusion".
Confidential material found
During a search of her home, police found six computers and two hard drives with a "huge capacity" that contained material considered confidential by Valeo’s management.
The Chinese national, who has denied the accusations, had worked since February as an intern in Valeo’s research and development division in southwest Paris.
It is believed she may have copied features of a number of cars made by different companies that are still on the drawing board.
A good soldier
"She was a good little soldier," a source close to the investigation said, adding that preliminary evidence taken from the computers implicated her.
At the same time, the woman — who already holds diplomas in mathematics, applied physics and fluid mechanics — was studying at a university in Compiegne, northeast of the French capital.
A source close to the inquiry described the woman, who speaks German, Spanish, English, French and some Arabic, as "brilliant" and of "exceptional competence".