Members of the European Parliament have reacted furiously after the institution was hit with fresh allegations of espionage.

The shock and anger stem from the arrest of an accredited assistant of Maximilian Krah, a member of Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) who, since 2019, has sat with the far-right Identify and Democracy (ID) group, according to Euronews. 

The Federal Prosecutor’s Office said the suspect, identified as Jian Guo by the lawmaker’s team, is accused of being “an employee of the Chinese secret service” as well as “repeatedly passing on information about negotiations and decisions in the European Parliament to his intelligence client.”

Guo was later suspended from his position.

In a short statement, Krah said he learned about the arrest “from the press” on April 23 morning and did not have “any additional information” to share.

“Spying for a foreign state is a serious accusation,” the MEP said. “If the allegations prove true, it will result in the immediate termination of Mr Guo’s employment with me.”

The revelations come at a troubling time for the hemicycle as it currently battles separate allegations of a cash-for-favours scheme that allegedly saw several lawmakers accept money from a pro-Russia interference network in exchange for spreading talking points and narratives friendly to the Kremlin.

The case is led by Belgian and Czech authorities and reportedly involves politicians from Germany, France, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Hungary.

“The cash payments did not take place in Belgium, but the interference does,” Belgian Prime Minister De Croo said this month. “As Belgium is the seat of the EU institutions, we have a responsibility to uphold every citizen’s right to a free and safe vote.”

It’s still unclear how MEPs participated in the operation. The Parliament’s president, Roberta Metsola, told Euronews she is willing to waive the immunity of those under suspicion but only after receiving more information from law enforcement.

With the so-called Russiagate still sending shockwaves, lawmakers rushed on Tuesday to denounce the emerging Chinagate and call for an internal probe. The issue was briefly discussed in the plenary in Strasbourg before voting resumed.

Manfred Weber, the leader of the centre-right European People’s Party, said the allegations were “very serious” and blasted the AfD as “unpatriotic.”

“Whoever votes for the AfD gets Putin and China,” Weber said.

His socialist counterpart, Iratxe García Pérez, echoed the concerns and noted the link with Krah, a top contender of the far right, was not “coincidental.”

During a press briefing, Terry Reintke, co-chair of the Greens group, warned that an accredited assistant like Jian Guo could have easily had access to confidential proceedings and interactions with Chinese dissidents.

“These questions are related because we see autocratic regimes are trying to influence policy-making using the European Parliament for this and potentially also trying to influence the European elections,” Reintke said.

As Maximillian Krah’s name is already entangled in the Russiangate, she argued, the two investigations should be “linked.” Krah has denied taking money for his interventions in Voice of Europe, the news company under scrutiny.

“There has been some suspicion for a while. Now that the German authorities have acted, I hope there will be a speedy clarification,” Reinhard Bütikofer, the Green MEP who chairs the parliament’s delegation for relations with China, told Euronews.

“The voters have to have a chance to make their decisions knowing full well whether some politicians have been actively pursuing Chinese interests instead of representing their voters,” he added.

Growing condemnation

Reacting to the news, the liberal group, Renew Europe, demanded Metsola take “swift action” to improve the security screening of the Parliament’s staff and asked for any arrested employee to be deprived of access credentials until the investigation is closed.

“The European far right drapes itself in the supposed defense of our nations and our fellow citizens. In reality, the interests they are defending are those of Moscow and Beijing,” said Valérie Hayer, the leader of Renew Europe, calling on voters to prevent a far-right rise in the upcoming elections.

“Sovereignty for sale!” wrote her fellow liberal, Guy Verhofstadt.

Anna Fotyga, a Polish member of the hard-right European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), said she was “not surprised” by the arrest of Krah’s assistant. 

“After spending 10 years in Brussels and delivering alerts about threats emanating from Russia, China, Iran and other hostile regimes, I am well aware that it is not an isolated case,” Fotyga said on social media.

Although ECR and ID share ideological similarities, like a strong dislike for the Green Deal and the New Pact on Migration, they often diverge on how the EU should respond to threats from Russia and China. In December, Krah said the strategy of “de-coupling” would lead to a recession. (The EU pursues a strategy of “de-risking” from China, which is focused on maintaining relations while decreasing vulnerable dependencies.)

“China is Chinese. Do we like that? No. Can we change it? No. Do we benefit from resorting to conflict, sanctions and economic warfare? Not at all,” Krah told the plenary. “We have to accept the world as it is, even if we don’t like it, and get the best out of it for the people of Europe.”

As MEPs piled on the censure, Beijing jumped into the fray. A spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry slammed the latest reports, including the arrest of three German nationals on April 22, as “disinformation” and a “malicious smear” designed to “undermine the atmosphere of cooperation” between China and Europe.

“We hope the relevant people in Germany can abandon their Cold War mentality and stop using the so-called spy threat to engage in anti-China political manipulation,” the spokesperson said, as quoted by the Associated Press.

Russiagate and Chinagate are not the only foreign-interference scandals to hit the European Parliament during the current legislature: in December 2022, the chamber was shaken by allegations that Qatar and Morocco had lavished MEPs and assistants with bags of cash and luxurious gifts in exchange for favourable treatment.

The so-called Qatargate unleashed a media frenzy and severely damaged the image of the Parliament, which was forced to introduce new transparency and conduct rules.