Polish authorities have arrested two individuals and accused them of conducting espionage on behalf of the Chinese government, the Polish TV channel TVP has reported (via BBC). One is a Chinese man who is the head of Huawei’s sales in the country, according to The New York Times, while the other is a Polish national and employee of the telecoms provider Orange Polska. The network has recently worked with Huawei to build its next-generation 5G network.
The arrests come amid fears that Huawei equipment could be used to spy on behalf of the Chinese government when used to build a country’s communications infrastructure. The US has reportedly considered explicitly banning the use of the company’s equipment from such networks, and it has also pressured its allies to do the same.
Several allies have already done so. In the UK, telecom provider BT has had a policy of not using Huawei equipment in the core of its network since 2006. Other European governments as well as New Zealand and Australia have also either considered or otherwise banned the use of the equipment. On Wednesday, Norway said it was thinking of excluding Huawei from the country’s 5G infrastructure.
At the root of concerns is a National Intelligence law that was enacted in China in 2017. The law says that Chinese organizations and citizens are expected to, “support, cooperate with, and collaborate in national intelligence work.” Huawei’s close ties with the Chinese government have also been scrutinized, although the company has always maintained that it operates independently.
The New York Times reports that the Polish government has identified the Huawei employee as Weijing W, and Polish television said that he worked for the Chinese Consulate in Gdansk, Poland, before joining Huawei in 2011. Meanwhile, the Polish national has been identified as Piotr D., and was employed at Poland’s internal security agency, the ABW, before leaving over corruption allegations. The deputy head of Poland’s special services, Maciej Wasik, said that Piotr had access to information about the country’s secure internal communications systems while at the ABW.
Polish authorities have searched the homes of both men, along with the offices of Huawei, Orange, and the Polish telecommunications regulator, according to TVP. If found guilty, both men could face prison sentences of up to 10 years.
In a statement, Huawei said that it “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.” The Chinese foreign ministry said it was, “highly concerned” about the arrests. Orange Polska confirmed that its offices had been searched, but it could not say whether the investigation was linked to Piot D.’s professional work. On Saturday, The Guardian reported that Huawei has fired Weijing.
These are not the only Huawei-related individuals who have been arrested by a foreign nation in recent months. At the beginning of December, Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada on the request of the US government. She is accused of committing fraud in order to circumvent the US’s Iran sanctions and was later released on bail.
Updated Saturday, January 12th, 2019: Updated with Weijing’s termination from Huawei.