Far-right German MEP's aide arrested for allegedly spying for China

Maximilian Krah, Member of the European Parliament of the German far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party attends a voting session as part of a plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on April 23, 2024. [AFP]

An aide to a German far-right member of the European Parliament has been arrested on suspicion of spying for China, German prosecutors said on Tuesday, deepening concerns about foreign interference ahead of June's European elections.

The allegations, coming a day after three other people suspected of spying for China were detained in Germany, sparked an angry reaction from Beijing, which said the arrest was designed to "smear and suppress" China.

It was also a new blow for Germany's far-right AfD party, which has been battling a series of scandals including allegations that some of its members have links to Russia.

The suspect, identified only as Jian G., stands accused of sharing European Parliament information with a Chinese intelligence service and of spying on Chinese opposition figures in Germany, federal prosecutors said in a statement.

The European Parliament lists Jian Guo as an accredited assistant to MEP Maximilian Krah, the AfD party's lead candidate in the forthcoming European Union-wide elections.

Guo is a German national who has reportedly worked as an aide to Krah in Brussels since 2019.

Prosecutors said the suspect "is an employee of a Chinese secret service".

"In January 2024, the accused repeatedly passed on information about negotiations and decisions in the European Parliament," they said.

"He also spied on Chinese opposition members in Germany for the intelligence service."

The European Parliament said it had suspended the aide "with immediate effect" in the wake of the revelations.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser called the allegations against Guo "very serious" and demanded a thorough investigation.

"If it is confirmed that spying for China is happening from the European Parliament, then that is an attack on European democracy from within," she said.

Election meddling fears

An AfD spokesman described the allegations as "very disturbing" and said the party had no further information on the case.

The party has summoned the MEP to Berlin, with the AfD's co-leader Alice Weidel promising a statement "on Wednesday at the latest" on the allegations.

Krah said he had found out about his assistant's arrest from the press.

"Spying for a foreign state is a serious allegation. Should the allegations prove to be true, this would result in an immediate termination of employment," he said in a statement.

The arrest plunges the anti-Islam, anti-immigration AfD into further turmoil.

Krah was himself caught up in a separate scandal in which it was alleged that some European lawmakers had accepted money to spread pro-Russian positions on a Moscow-financed news website.

Krah was named in media reports after the Czech government said late last month it had uncovered a Russian propaganda network.

Krah said he had twice appeared on the "Voice of Europe" website but had "of course not received any money for this".

AfD lawmaker Petr Bystron also denied accepting money to cooperate with the news site.

But the accusations have highlighted worries about potential foreign meddling and disinformation ahead of the June 6-9 EU polls, in which far-right parties across the 27-nation bloc are expected to make gains.

String of spy cases

Voters might also "remember this case at the time of casting their votes", Antonia Hmaidi, an analyst at the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin, told AFP.

While the news was "surprising", reporting suggested that "the Chinese Ministry of State Security has worked to recruit other far-right politicians in the EU", Hmaidi said.

Guo was arrested in the eastern German city of Dresden on Monday, prosecutors said.

According to research by German broadcasters ARD, RBB and SWR -- who first broke news of the arrest -- Guo is no stranger to German intelligence.

He reportedly offered his services as an informer at least a decade ago but was turned away on suspicion he might be a Chinese double agent.

The Guo case comes after Germany on Monday arrested three German nationals suspected of spying for China by providing access to secret maritime technology, allegations strongly rejected by China's embassy in Berlin.

The two cases are not connected, according to German media.

And in Britain on Monday, two men were charged with passing information to China between 2021 and last year. One of the suspects previously worked in Britain's parliament as a researcher.