Poland has arrested a Chinese manager at tech giant Huawei’s local office and one of its own former counterespionage officers. Both men have been charged with spying on Poland for China, state television and officials reported Friday.
The development comes as the United States is exerting pressure on its allies to block Huawei, the world’s biggest maker of telecommunications network equipment, over data security concerns.
The two men were arrested Tuesday, according to Poland’s Internal Security Agency. Polish security agents also searched the Warsaw offices of Huawei and Orange, Poland’s leading communications provider, where the former Polish spy recently worked, seizing documents and electronic data. The homes of both men, also in Warsaw, were searched as well, according to agency spokesman Stanislaw Zaryn.
Huawei is a leader in the development of next-generation “5G” mobile networks and a key player in building them in Europe. But a U.S. dispute with China over its ban on Huawei is spilling over to Europe, the company’s biggest foreign market.
Some European governments and telecom companies are following the U.S. lead in questioning whether using Huawei for vital infrastructure for mobile networks could leave them exposed to snooping by the Chinese government.
Maciej Wasik, deputy head of Poland’s Special Services agency, said the operation that resulted in the arrests of the two suspects had been underway for a long time. He said “both carried out espionage activities against Poland.”
Zaryn told The Associated Press that prosecutors have charged the two men with espionage, but that agents are continuing to collect evidence and interview witnesses, including sorting through what was seized earlier this week. Further indictments are expected, he said.
“It’s not the beginning of this case but it’s also not the end,” he said. He also said no further details would be released now about the case because it is classified and the investigation is ongoing.
TVP reported that the men have proclaimed their innocence, but Zaryn said he could not confirm that. If convicted, they could face up to 10 years in prison each.
TVP, which is government-controlled media, identified the arrested Chinese man as Weijing W., saying he was a director in Poland at Huawei. It said the man also went by the Polish first name of Stanislaw and had previously worked at the Chinese consulate in Gdansk.
A LinkedIn profile for a man named Stanislaw Wang appears to match details of the man described by Polish television.
Wang’s resume said he worked at China’s General Consulate in Gdansk from 2006-2011 and at Huawei Enterprise Poland since 2011, where he was first director of public affairs and since 2017 the “sales director of public sector.” The resume said he received a bachelor’s degree in 2004 from the Beijing University of Foreign Studies.
State TV identified the Polish man as Piotr D., and said he was a high-ranking employee at the Internal Security Agency until 2011, where he served as deputy director in the department of information security.
Huawei issued a statement from its Chinese headquarters saying it was aware of the situation in Poland and was looking into it.
“We have no comment for the time being. Huawei complies with all applicable laws and regulations in the countries where it operates, and we require every employee to abide by the laws and regulations in the countries where they are based,” it continued.
An official at the Chinese Embassy in Warsaw said China attaches “great importance to the detention” of the Chinese citizen in Poland and that Chinese envoys had met with Polish Foreign Ministry officials on the matter and urged them to “arrange a consular visit as soon as possible.”
Orange Poland told the AP on Friday it was cooperating with Polish security services in the case and had “handed over belongings of one of our employees” in Tuesday’s search of its offices. Orange told the AP it did not know if the suspicions against its employee were related to his work at Orange.
Geopolitical tensions over Huawei intensified after Meng Wanzhou, its chief financial officer as well as the daughter of the company founder, was arrested December 1 in Canada in connection with U.S. accusations that the company violated restrictions on sales of American technology to Iran.
The United States wants Meng extradited to face charges that she misled banks about the company’s business dealings in Iran. She is out on bail in Canada awaiting extradition proceedings.
Huawei has been blocked in the United States since 2012, when a House Intelligence Committee report found it was a security risk and recommended that the government and private companies stop buying its network equipment. Critics claim that Huawei has close ties to the Chinese government and thus could be coerced into using company equipment for espionage or even cyberattacks as directed by Beijing.
Huawei has always maintained that, as a privately owned and operated firm, it does not pose a special security risk. Instead, many analysts in China have painted the attacks on Huawei as an attempt to thwart the rise of a Chinese technological giant, and insulate Western firms from competition.
By Vanessa Gera for the Associated Press. Kelvin Chan in in London and Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report. The Diplomat also contributed reporting.