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Norwegian arrested for allegedly spying for China

July 2, 2024

An Oslo court ordered the detention of a Norwegian citizen accused of spying for China. Norway's security agency has previously called China a "significant intelligence threat."

Norwegian Police Security Service Logo
The Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) arrested the accused on Monday Image: NTB/Imago

A Norwegian man was arrested on Monday by the police on espionage charges "that could benefit China," the local Norwegian news agency NTB said, citing Norway's security service.

The authorities have not made the person's identity public. Marius Dietrichson, a lawyer representing the accused, said the man denied spying for Beijing. 

The suspect was detained on Monday at Oslo's international airport as he returned from China, Thomas Blom, a spokesman for the service's counterespionage unit, told reporters.

What has the Oslo court decided?

Following a hearing on Tuesday, the court placed the accused in a four-week pretrial detention.

While in detention, the accused will not be allowed outside communication. The court has ordered him to spend the first two weeks in isolation.

Norway spy suspect pleads not guilty

"He says he is innocent and that he is not an agent for China," a lawyer working on the case, Dietrichson, told AFP news agency. Dietrichson said he could not provide further details because of the sensitive nature of the accusations against his client. 

The security services have not yet revealed the information the suspect might have provided to China.

"We are in a preliminary and extremely sensitive phase," Blom from the service's counterespionage unit told reporters as he left the Oslo court.

China 'a significant intelligence threat'

The arrest comes as Oslo forecast that Beijing would pose an intelligence threat this year. 

"China will be a significant intelligence threat in 2024," an annual threat assesment by the Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) said.

The PST's assessment published in February also mentions, "This is due in particular to the deterioration in the relationship between China and the West, China's desire for more control over supply chains, and positioning in the Arctic."

Chinese officials in the past have rejected the various espionage accusations as "hype" meant to discredit China, Reuters said.

Norway's past arrests on espionage charges

Norway and Russia share a 198-kilometer (roughly 123-mile) Arctic border and over the last years, Norway has arrested several people suspected of foreign intelligence activity.

In 2022, Norwegian officials arrested several Russian citizens amid heightened fears over the security of energy, internet, and infrastructure.

Another case saw a visting academic detained by the Norwegian Domestic Security Agency in 2022 on suspicion of spying for Russia.

The detainee, a Brazilian citizen identified initially as Jose Assis Giammaria, was working as a lecturer at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsoe. He later revealed his real name to be Mikhail Mikushin. He arrived in Norway in 2021 — a date has not been set for his trial. 

In 2021 a US Embassy official was summoned  by the Norwegian government over spying reports. 

Why is the West worried about China?

Over the past couple of months, Western nations have been increasingly cautious about alleged Chinese spying.

Across Germany, three German nationals in separate caseswere arrested on similar charges. An aide to a far-right German member of the European Parliament was also charged with espionage, earlier this year. 

German far-right party worker arrested on spying charges

In March, the US and Britain accused Beijing of cyberespionage against millions of people including lawmakers, academics, journalists and firms such as defense contractors.

In the case of Norway, authorities are currently seeking to prevent the sale of the last piece of private property in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

A lawyer representing the owners of this property revealed, a Chinese group had expressed interest in the 60 square-kilometer (23 square-mile) domain.

sp/msh (NTB, Reuters, AP, AFP)