Polish authorities detained and charged a local sales director of Huawei Technologies Co., a Chinese national, with conducting high-level espionage on behalf of China, amid widening global scrutiny by Washington and its allies of the technology giant.
The arrest is another bombshell for Huawei, following the early December detention of the company’s chief financial officer in Canada, at the U.S.’s request, on charges related to Iranian sanctions. Unlike those allegations, the nature of the charges in Poland speak directly to suspicions by Washington and other Western governments that Huawei could be used by Beijing as a global spying tool.
For years, Washington has labeled Huawei a national security threat, saying it could be forced by China to use its knowledge of the telecommunications equipment it sells around the world to tap into, or disable, foreign communications networks. Huawei has denied that forcefully through the years. Part of its defense has been that it hadn’t been implicated in overseas spying allegations.
Officers of Poland’s counterintelligence agency this week searched the local Huawei office, leaving with documents and electronic data, as well as the home of the Chinese national, said Stanislaw Zaryn, a spokesman for Poland’s security coordination office. The Chinese individual wasn’t named, but was identified by Polish state television as a graduate of one of China’s top intelligence schools, as well as a former employee of the Chinese consulate in the port city of Gdansk.
People familiar with the matter identified him as Weijing Wang. He is known in Poland as Stanislaw Wang, according to these people and a public LinkedIn page that matches his biographical details.
A person who knew Mr. Wang described him as a well-known figure in local business circles, often spotted at events sponsored by Huawei in Poland. “He spoke great Polish,” this person said. “He was a really well-known Chinese guy in Poland and was always around.”
Before taking over as a Huawei sales director in the country, Mr. Wang was Huawei’s public-relations director in the country, according to this person and the LinkedIn page.
Chinese telecom giant Huawei has long caused tension between Washington and Beijing. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday explains what the company does and why it’s significant. (Photo: Aly Song/Reuters)
In Poland, Mr. Wang worked in Huawei’s enterprise division, handling sales of information-technology and communications equipment to government customers, according to people familiar with the matter. That business area sometimes involves a higher level of scrutiny than others, given that the buyers are in the government, one of these people said.
As part of the same investigation, Poland’s Internal Security Agency also detained one of its own former officials, a Polish citizen who was deputy head of the agency’s IT security department. That person, who wasn’t publicly identified, had knowledge of the inner workings of the Polish government’s encrypted communications network, which is used by its top officeholders, the state broadcaster said.
Both men have been charged with espionage, according to Mr. Zaryn. The crime carries up to 10 years’ imprisonment. They have pleaded not guilty.
“Huawei is aware of the situation, and we are looking into it,” a spokesman for the company said. Huawei said it complies with laws and regulations in the countries where it operates, and requires employees to do the same. A Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said Beijing “is highly concerned about it. We require relevant countries to handle relevant cases fairly and in accordance with law,” the statement said.
Polish counterintelligence officers also searched the offices of French telecommunications carrier
said Mr. Zaryn.
Orange said it was aware of the search of its offices in Poland. In a statement, the company’s local unit said it had handed over belongings of one of its employees. “We have no knowledge if there is any relation of these actions to his professional duties,” it said. Orange said it was cooperating with the probe.
The Polish national who was arrested had previously worked for Orange, according to state-owned television. Mr. Zaryn declined to discuss the personal details of the Polish citizen, but said he was a veteran of the country’s intelligence and law-enforcement agencies who had held director-level positions in several.
“He was in many different institutions,” he said. That included the police and Poland’s secret services. The individuals were detained on suspicion of espionage earlier this week. A judge has ordered them detained for three months, Mr. Zaryn said.
Mr. Zaryn said Poland acted alone in the probe. “I do not think there was any international cooperation in this investigation.”
Last month, Canadian authorities, at the behest of U.S. officials, arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou on charges she lied to banks about the company’s business in Iran. Ms. Meng denies the charges.
In 2012, a U.S. congressional report labeled Huawei a national security threat, a finding the company said was politically motivated. Huawei has long denied that it is a spying threat, saying that it is owned by its employees and operates independently of Beijing.
The congressional report all but shut the telecom-gear and smartphone maker out of the U.S. market. Still, it flourished overseas, quickly eclipsing Western rivals like
AB as the world’s biggest seller of telecom gear—equipment like cell towers and switches that enable mobile networks.
For much of last year, American officials redoubled efforts to limit sales of Huawei gear in the U.S. Some small American carriers, particularly rural ones, use the gear, partly because it is cheap.
Washington also started more recently to press allies aggressively to avoid using Huawei gear. Australia has also been out front raising public concern about Huawei equipment. A number of countries, including Australia, the U.K., Germany, New Zealand and Japan have agreed to review their telecom-gear supply chain, or have specifically restricted the sale of Chinese equipment, in the wake of the new scrutiny.
The push from Washington comes as many carriers around the world are starting to roll out 5G, the latest generation of mobile-telecom technology that promises faster connections and is envisioned to help enable internet connections for everything from factories to toothbrushes.
Last month, Germany’s
announced the launch of the country’s first fully functional 5G network using equipment from Huawei.
Poland has been Huawei’s top market in Central and Eastern Europe, and its ambitions to roll out 5G equipment in the region have gone farther in Poland than most places outside China. Last year, the government named the company an official partner of its 5G strategy. In September, Huawei and Orange’s local unit began installing the first test antennas of a 5G network the two companies hoped to launch together. In November, the prime minister’s office said Huawei would build a science-and-technology center in the capital. It already runs a research-and-development center there.
“Poland is Huawei’s base camp in the region,” said Mo Jia, an analyst at Canalys. “And this market is very critical to Huawei’s smartphone business.”
Counterintelligence agencies elsewhere in the region, however, have issued unusually public warnings against Huawei for years, part of broader international scrutiny on cyber vulnerabilities in what is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s eastern flank, a front line for cyberattacks against U.S. allies. As far back as 2013, the Czech Security Information Service, a domestic security agency, suggested excluding Huawei from public tenders and said the company might be installing backdoors on its equipment to allow outsiders to log into government computers from elsewhere.
Besides telecom equipment, Huawei is also the world’s No. 2 smartphone maker, behind South Korea’s
, and has been a top player in Poland’s market for the devices. Until as recently as the first quarter of 2018, it was the top seller of smartphones there, though has more recently been edged out by Samsung, according to research firm IDC.