German prosecutor drops spy case against ex-EU envoy Sabathil

Retired diplomat had been under suspicion over ties to China.

German prosecutor drops spy case against ex-EU envoy Sabathil

BERLIN — German authorities have dropped an espionage probe into former EU ambassador Gerhard Sabathil after a nearly year-long investigation failed to back up allegations that the retired diplomat had spied for China, according to two people familiar with the case.

The Karlsruhe-based Federal Prosecutor’s Office sent a letter to Sabathil and his two alleged co-conspirators dated November 18, informing them that the official investigation had ended and that no charges would be filed, the two people familiar with the case said. The prosecutor didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The accusations created an uproar in Brussels when they surfaced in January because Sabathil, who had worked for the European Commission for decades before joining the private sector, was a well-connected lobbyist whose clients included China’s Huawei.

Dozens of police officers searched Sabathil’s private residences and offices in a series of raids in January, but they appear to have found nothing to prove that he was a Chinese spy. 

The former director of the EU diplomatic service’s East Asia division, Sabathil served as the EU’s ambassador to South Korea from 2015 to 2016. He traveled frequently to China, where he was a guest professor at a university. 

Those associations — and the fact that Sabathil’s partner is a Chinese national — drew the attention of intelligence services, the people close to the investigation said. That scrutiny heightened after Sabathil, who then headed the Berlin office of Eutop, a Germany-based European lobbying firm, began working for Huawei. The Chinese firm is in the midst of a controversial push to install 5G telecom networks across Europe. The U.S. has warned its European allies that using the gear would expose them to Chinese espionage — accusations both Huawei and the Chinese government have denied.