A British parliamentary researcher with links to MPs with classified information has been arrested for ‘spying for China’. The male suspect, who is said to be in his late twenties, is thought to be linked to numerous Tory MPs – including security minister Tom Tugendhat and foreign affairs committee chairman Alicia Kearns.
Several of the MPs with links to the man are ‘privy to classified or highly sensitive information’, according to The Times. It is feared the British researcher may have been recruited by Beijing as a sleeper agent while living and working in China, before being sent back to the UK to infiltrate.
The suspect and another man in his thirties were both arrested relating to allegations of Official Secrets Act and espionage-related offences. A senior Whitehall source claimed the situation is a ‘major escalation’ by China, adding that the country has ‘never seen anything like this before’. The researcher has worked with MPs on international policy and held a parliamentary pass for several years. Mr Tugendhat is said to have had limited contact with the researcher and severed contact when ran for Conservative leader. He has not been in contact with the accused as security minister.
Scotland Yard said in a statement: ‘Officers from the Metropolitan Police arrested two men on March 13 on suspicion of offences under section one of the Official Secrets Act 1911. ‘A man in his thirties was arrested at an address in Oxfordshire and a man in his twenties was arrested at an address in Edinburgh. Searches were also carried out at both the residential properties, as well as at a third address in east London. ‘Both men were taken to a south London police station and were released on police bail until a date in early October.’
The force added: ‘The investigation is being carried out by officers from the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, which has responsibility for investigations relating to allegations of Official Secrets Act and espionage-related offences. Enquiries continue.’ Luke de Pulford, of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), told The Times it was ‘no surprise’ the researcher would ‘go after Tom’, as he had been ‘out in front on China for years’.
He added: ‘In IPAC we have long suspected that something was badly wrong because there were consistent efforts from a hostile researcher to smear IPAC MPs and label them as extreme on China policy. Now it all makes sense.’
The government’s former deputy national security adviser Paddy McGuinness said the mask has ‘truly slipped’ in regards to China’s actions, adding that Beijing has a ‘causal disregard for our democracy and our sovereignty’. The approach by China was described as ‘allegedly recruiting British staff to report on and possibly shape the work of political parties’.
It comes after it was reported last month that a Chinese spy was using fake LinkedIn profiles to lure thousands of British officials into handing over state secrets in exchange for cash and flashy business deals. The sole Beijing operative is said to have used a raft of fake names and created sham companies to target civil servants, scientists and even security officials into handing over classified Government information on the social media site for professionals.
According to an investigation by The Times, the secret agent is mainly operating under the alias Robin Zhang and is thought to be one of the most prolific spies working in the UK in years, Western security officials have said.