Munich court complex, which includes the Higher Regional Court and the Public Prosecutor's Office. Photo: AFP / Matthias Balk / dpa Picture-Alliance

A German political scientist has been charged with spying for China by exploiting high-level official contacts made via his position as the head of a think tank, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

The accused, identified only as Klaus L, is suspected of “regularly passing on information to Chinese intelligence ahead of or after state visits or multinational conferences” between 2010 and 2019. 

Klaus L had been running a political think tank since 2001, gaining international importance due to his scientific reputation and networks he had built up over many years, the prosecutors said.

He was approached by members of a Chinese intelligence service during a lecture tour to Shanghai in June 2010. 

The suspect obtained information primarily from his numerous high-ranking political contacts gained through his work, the prosecutors said.

He was allegedly paid for the tips and the Chinese intelligence service are also believed to have arranged for him to travel to the meetings with its officers, including as part of a social program.

According to a report by German public broadcaster ARD, Klaus L, 75, led a double life and had also been working as a spy for the German foreign intelligence services (BND).

ARD also said he had previously worked for the Hanns Seidel Foundation, which is close to the Christian Social Union (CSU), the smaller Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Klaus L was arrested at his home on November 23, 2019, the ARD report said, just as he and his wife were on their way to Munich airport. 

They had been due to travel on from Munich to Macau to meet with Chinese intelligence officers there, it said. 

Complex case

The investigators turned the house upside down, searched the couple’s luggage and seized data sticks and computers. 

The fact that Klaus L has only now been charged is a sign of how complex the case is, the ARD report said – he apparently did not deny that he was spying for the Chinese, but claimed the German secret services knew about it.

According to the report, Klaus L worked for the BND for around 50 years, being paid to supply information from the top professional contacts he made in the course of his career. 

He started working for the Hanns Seidel Foundation in the early 1980s, often traveling to give guest lectures abroad in countries such as the former Soviet Union and later in Russia, the Balkans, South Africa and South Asia. 

When ARD first reported on the case, the foundation said it had “no knowledge whatsoever” of the allegations. 

It is unclear whether the Chinese secret service knew about Klaus L’s connections to the BND.

At the time of his retirement, Klaus L was head of the foundation’s department for international security policy, according to the ARD report.

After he retired, he carried on working as the director of a specially founded “Institute for Transnational Studies,” a kind of think tank, which he operated both from his house in Landshut and from a property in South Tyrol, which also had seminar rooms.

The BND is said to have always sat at the table at the events with international speakers. 

The suspect is due to appear before a judge later on Tuesday.