Gerhard the German Spy and European diplomat who liked China a little too much

(B2 – exclusive) The man at the heart of a spying case in Germany on behalf of China is well known to European institutions. In two ways

Did the attractive power of China get the better of the European? (credit : European Commission – Shangai – B2 Archives)

A faithful European servant

A German national, Gerhard Sabathil was first an official at the European Commission, in its representations in Oslo and Berlin, then as director of foreign policy coordination and strategy at DG Relex. In 2011, he became director for North-East Asia and the Pacific in the brand new European External Action Service (EEAS), then was appointed in July 2015, head of delegation and ambassador of the EU in Seoul, South Korea (read: Rotation 2015. Portrait des nouveaux ambassadeurs du SEAE). It was during his stay in Korea where he seriously slipped, or at least when that suspicion materialised. He then gives in to Chinese temptation, out of love (1) or out of interest.

Leaks of confidential documents in Korea

It is the European authorities, which detected in 2016 the leak of certain documents, classified as confidential. All very sensitive topics for the Chinese, especially on human rights, which ended up in the hands of the Chinese. The German authorities are then also alerted. As a precaution, they withdraw the security clearance from the person concerned (2). This leads, in fact, to the termination of his duties as ambassador. He is then called back to the EEAS headquarters in Brussels and carefully kept away from any sensitive office. A measure that, in the hushed world of diplomacy, is similar to a sanction. Indeed, the man only stayed a year and half there, instead of the usual three (or four) years.

Having moved on to lobbying, he continues to work for China

Having acknowledged the facts, and being pushed aside, the German chooses then to retire from the European institutions. He quickly enters the lobbying firm Eutop, who’s founder is Klemens Joos, a graduate (like him) of the Munich. A company who works with China, has a subsidiary in Shanghai and an office in Beijing. G. is in his element. He quickly resumes his Chinese connections. Not only ha she passed on information “since 2017″ to Chinese State security, but he has “recruited two people of another lobbying society” for his activities, according to German media Der Spiegel.

Under a federal investigation, searches in Berlin and Brussels

The appartements and offices of the three accused men in Germany (in Berlin, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria) as well as in Belgium (in Brussels) were searched by the police in the early hours of Wednesday (15th January). Visits carried out on the instruction of the German Federal Attorney Peter Frank, who opened an investigation against the former European official, and his two co-religionists, for acts of espionage for the benefit of China.

European authorities ready to cooperate

According to our information, the place of Brussels that was search, with the assistance of the Belgian police, is the work office of the former European official. A private office, not a room belonging to a European institution, said Virginie Battu, the EEAS spokesperson, during the midday press briefing. The latter did not want “comment” further on “the investigation in progress” being carried out by the German judicial authorities. “We never comment” on this kind of situation. But we are “of course alway ready to cooperate with the national authorities of the Member States when they request it“.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. A woman who later became his partner.
  2. Every delegation head has a security clearance in order to access documents classified as confidential.

First published in French B2 Pro section (on subscription)

Nicolas Gros-Verheyde

Rédacteur en chef du site B2. Diplômé en droit européen de l'université Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne et auditeur 65e session IHEDN (Institut des hautes études de la défense nationale. Journaliste depuis 1989, fonde B2 - Bruxelles2 en 2008. Correspondant UE/OTAN à Bruxelles pour Sud-Ouest (auparavant Ouest-France et France-Soir).