Belgian secret services have been worried “for years” that Dar Malta has been harbouring technical means installed by the Chinese to spy on European institutions, according to French daily Le Monde.
The French news outlet wrote that suspicions stem from a renovation project ahead of the 2007 opening of Malta's EU embassy. Suspicions about Chinese spying were first transmitted to the Belgian authorities around 2010, Le Monde said.
The alarm was reportedly sounded by British intelligence, who said Chinese secret services were involved in the Maltese embassy’s renovation.
Furniture and certain fittings for the prominent embassy in Brussels, which is a stone’s throw away from major EU institutions, were shipped from China to the Belgian capital as part of a $300,000 cooperation agreement.
A Times of Malta source said the agreement was not specific to the Dar Malta project.
The source said that all wooden furniture donated by the Chinese had been thoroughly scanned prior to installation.
As a precaution, televisions donated by the Chinese that could be connected to a power source were not installed, the source said.
"To the best of my knowledge, no Chinese officials every went anywhere near the building. Every single bit of equipment was scanned and checked before entering Dar Malta. Everything was done to NATO standards", the source said.
French report 'completely incorrect' - Richard Cachia Caruana
Contacted by Times of Malta, Malta's former ambassador to the EU, Richard Cachia Caruana, said 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 conclusions reached in the Le Monde article about any activities prior to 2013 are completely incorrect", he said.
On Dar Malta's location, Cachia Caruana said it made complete sense for a small country like Malta, with a limited staff, to be physically close to the EU institutions.
Cachia Caruana was forced to resign as ambassador in 2012.
EU institutions a target for China
EU institutions have reportedly long been the target of Chinese spying efforts.
EU officials were reported to have received internal warnings about the growing presence of Russian and Chinese spies in the vicinity of its Brussels offices in 2019.
The European Commission has so far resisted US pressure to ditch the use of Chinese tech giant Huawei's 5G technology across the continent.
Dar Malta history
Dar Malta was bought by the government in June 2004 for around €21 million. It spent several years under renovation before officially opening in 2007.
Questions had been raised at the time about why Malta decided to buy a 13-storey building in such a prominent location.
Malta continues to enjoy close relations with China.
In 2014, Shanghai Electric Power, a Chinese state-owned energy company, bought a €320 million stake in Enemalta.
The Chinese government has unveiled controversial plans to built a 20,000 square metre embassy in Pembroke.
In a statement on Friday, the government said it took note of the report and clarified that the renovation works carried out in 2007, "under a different administration", were carried out at the expense of the government.
"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 in the statement.
The article makes various incorrect allegations that such equipment is being used for illicit purposes, the government said.
"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. Moreover, 80 per cent of the mentioned furniture has 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."