Updated | China spying allegations: Dar Malta de-bugged and audited by Security Services

Le Monde claims of Chinese spy-tech inside Dar Malta challenged by former and present government sources

25, Rue Archimede
25, Rue Archimede

Updated at 7:40pm with government's official reaction

French newspaper Le Monde has carried a report claiming Belgian state security sources believed Malta’s embassy in Brussels could have been bugged by Chinese spies, to the detriment of the EU.

In a long-drawn piece mapping out Malta’s relations with the Chinese – it was the first country to recognise the People’s Republic in 1972 – the French paper claimed Dar Malta, which housed the Permanent Representation to the EU, “harboured technical apparatus installed by the Chinese secret services to spy on the European institutions.”

“The building was equipped to the highest security standards and was regularly certified by the Maltese Security Service. I’m quite sure this continued to be the case after 2013.” Richard Cachia Caruana

But the same newspaper also says that “the French authorities and the Commission assure, in private, that they have no recollection of complaints made by the Belgian secret services against the Embassy of Malta in Brussels.”

Yet various high-ranking government sources, past and present, are disputing the claims, some telling MaltaToday the report could be a retaliation at Malta’s withdrawal from the EU naval operation Irini.

Former Permanent Representative to the EU, Richard Cachia Caruana, who oversaw the acquisition of the nine-storey Rue Archimede building, dispelled the claims.

The Le Monde report, with the title Espionage: The Chinese Shadows Inside The Maltese Embassy In Brussels
The Le Monde report, with the title Espionage: The Chinese Shadows Inside The Maltese Embassy In Brussels

“The building was equipped to the highest security standards and was regularly certified by the Maltese Security Service. I’m quite sure this continued to be the case after 2013.”

The current Permanent Representative, Daniel Azzopardi, appointed in 2018, said the building was also rigorously audited by the European Council, as per EU law, due to the presence of confidential EU documents. “We also had two internal security audits, the first giving the building the all-clear with a set of recommendations, and the second following-up on the first, confirming we had put in place the recommendations.”

Indeed, another Malta government source, a former member of the prime minister’s office insists that Dar Malta was de-bugged back in 2014. “This was a matter brought up by former Permanent Representative Marlene Bonnici in 2014… subsequently the building was de-bugged.”

Another former official up to date with the works on the embassy back in 2007 told MaltaToday that Malta had indeed been donated certain equipment by the Chinese government. “It was screened in Malta by the Malta Security Services, which is very well-equipped, then again with new equipment in Brussels. And then, there was a two-week period where the place was checked for potential bugging.”

The Le Monde article comes hot on the heels of Malta’s stated withdrawal from the EU naval operation Irini, which is intended at enforcing the Libyan arms embargo at sea.

But the operation mainly prevents Turkish armaments from reaching the UN-recognised Libyan Government of National Accord, yet does nothing to stop rival General Khalifa Haftar – who is backed by France – and whose weapons are supplied over the Libyan border from Egypt and the UAE, a route which Irini cannot stop.

A former PN government source told MaltaToday similar allegations had already been made back in 2007 when structural engineers CIT Blaton, who have worked on NATO buildings, were first brought in by the Maltese to work on the €21 million embassy.

Le Monde claims CIT Blaton has a relationship with the Chinese government, most recently with works on a €100 million China-Belgium Technological Centre.

Today the cladded building has numerous surveillance cameras and electronic badge readers, with human-presence detectors installed everywhere, including in elevators and car parks. The management of CIT Blaton dismissed questions from Le Monde on the alleged spy equipment, saying that it only dealt with the structural work of Dar Malta.

Le Monde wrote that the Belgians were alerted by British intelligence of the presence of the Chinese secret services behind the embassy works; “the Belgian military secret service, the general intelligence and security service, also lent a hand in supporting the accusations of espionage.”

Dar Malta building cleared by various audits - government

In a statement, the government lamented that Le Monde had made a number of incorrect allegations in their story.

Highlighting that the Dar Malta building had been cleared by various audits, it noted that its security systems had been changed and improved in recent years.

"The government clarifies that renovation works carried out in 2007, under a different administration, on the site housing the Permanent Representation were carried out at the expense of the government of Malta thirteen years ago. It was only furniture which was donated by the government of the People’s Republic of China to install, in line with the relevant security procedures, in the Permanent Representation, to which the government remains thankful," the government said.

"The article makes various incorrect allegations that such equipment is being used for illicit purposes. The government confirms that the building housing the Permanent Representation has been the subject of internal and external audits and found the building to be in the clear."

The government pointed out that "80% of the furniture mentioned in the article had over the past two years been disposed of and replaced by new furniture procured from Malta."

"It is also important to clarify that the Permanent Representation’s security system has been overhauled and improved over the past two years," it added.