French spy facing treason charges 'was snared by Chinese honeytrap'

David Chazan
The headquarters of the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), France's equivalent of MI6 - AFP

A former French intelligence agent facing treason charges was reportedly ensnared by a Chinese “honeytrap” when he began an affair with an interpreter in Beijing, it emerged on Sunday.

The retired spy, named as Henri M., 71, and another former operative, Pierre-Marie H., 66,  are being held in prisons near Paris, accused of passing “information detrimental to fundamental national interests” to a foreign power. 

According to a report in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper, Henri M. fell for a woman who worked as an interpreter for the French ambassador in Beijing after he was posted there in 1997 as station chief for France’s DGSE foreign intelligence service, the equivalent of Britain’s MI6. Security sources confirmed the report.

Henri M.’s wife stayed in France when he moved to Beijing, leaving him vulnerable to the charms of the interpreter, who has not been named. She was reportedly suspected of being a Chinese intelligence agent or informant.

The ambassador, Pierre Morel, became concerned about the relationship and asked for Henri M. to be recalled to France in 1998. 

Henri M. then left the intelligence service and started a business importing Chinese furniture. He was divorced and returned to Beijing in 2003, where he married the former interpreter at the French embassy the following year. 

The couple moved to Hainan Island off China’s southern coast, which serves as its main nuclear submarine base, and Henri M. opened a restaurant.

Many questions remain about why he and Pierre-Marie H. were only arrested two decades after Henri M. first came under suspicion.

Franck Renaud, a Journal du Dimanche reporter and the author of a 2010 book that alluded to the scandal at the Beijing embassy, said: “Did the DGSE want to avoid a crisis and at the same time let Chinese intelligence believe that Henri M. might be a double agent feeding them false information?” 

Florence Parly, the French defence minister, confirmed the charges against the two former agents but declined to specify whether the foreign power involved was China.