It is a trial to be extremely rare, which starts Monday in France, worthy of an espionage film: two ex-agents secrets French suspected of treason after having been returned by chinese services are tried before the assize court special of Paris.
Pierre-Marie H. and Henry M. appear for “delivery of information to a foreign power”, “undermining the fundamental interests of the nation”, “intelligence with a foreign power”. These two men who worked for the Directorate-general for external Security (DGSE), the spy service French, face 15 years in prison.
The former officers were charged and placed in detention in December 2017, while they were already retired. Pierre-Marie H. has since been released under judicial control. His wife, Laurence H., will also be considered, particularly for “concealment of property derived from intelligence with a foreign power of a nature to prejudice the fundamental interests of the nation”.
They appear before a court of assizes special, consisting only of professional judges. But this folder is extra-sensitive will probably be held in closed session due to the risk of infringement of the secrecy of the defence.
When the affair was revealed in may 2018, the French authorities had spoken of a case of “extreme gravity.” The two suspects are “suspected of having committed acts that could be qualified as acts of treason […] and that are likely to jeopardize the secrets of national defense”, stated the minister for the Armed forces, Florence Parly.
The ministry of Defence had then ensured that the DGSE itself had detected the leak and “taken on its own initiative these facts to the attention of the prosecutor of Paris”. But the authorities had remained very evasive on the facts, and had not even said in favour of which country the officers would have betrayed him.
The two defendants, according to several media, spied on the foreign intelligence French for the account of Beijing. The two men are met with counter-intelligence at the DGSE.
In 1997, Henri M. has been appointed official representative of the DGSE in Beijing, where he held the position of second secretary at the embassy. But he was recalled to France in the beginning of 1998 after embarking on a liaison with the interpreter for the chinese ambassador. He retired a few years later and returned to China in 2003, where he married the ex-interpreter, with which he has installed on the island of Hainan, in the south of China.
Why have they been arrested so late? There would have been, according to a good connoisseur of the folder, there is a flaw within the DGSE, and Henri M. would not have been monitored for years after his retirement.
Pierre-Marie H. was arrested at Zurich airport with the liquid after meeting a chinese contact on an island in the Indian ocean. The latter has never been stationed overseas. But in addition to counter-espionage, it is passed by the monitoring of the mass organizations, including trade unions.
What the two men are linked, beyond the shadow of China? The assumptions are many, but one thing is for sure: they were monitored for several months when they were arrested.
Franck Renaud, journalist, author of the book The Diplomats (editions Nouveau Monde, 2010) on the quai d’orsay, in which he mentioned the case of Henry M. who puts forth the context of the “very heavy between France and China in the 90s”, after Tian’anmen, and the case of the sale of frigates in france to Taiwan.
“It is a matter which has posed a lot of problems with the DGSE, who had to repatriate the eyes and ears of the device that she had installed in China,” said Franck Renaud to the AFP.
The verdict will be handed down on 10 July.