Taiwan probes senior staff at Hong Kong-listed China Innovation after Chinese ‘spy’ William Wang claimed it was a front for Beijing espionage operations

Eric Ng

China Innovation Investment, a little-known Hong Kong firm dragged into spying allegations it denies, says Taipei has waded into the matter by initiating an investigation into two of its senior staff.

The Taiwanese authorities have asked Xiang Xin, China Innovations’ chairman and chief executive, and his wife Kung Ching, an alternate director, to cooperate with an investigation it is carrying out into “the matter of the news reports”, the company said.

It was referring to recent media reports that a man claiming to be a Chinese spy seeking asylum in Australia alleged he undertook undercover espionage work in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia.

He claims he was embedded as part of a spying apparatus within China Innovation Investment. Beijing has been using the company as a front to interfere with Hong Kong politics by infiltrating universities, political groups and media companies, he has said.

Xiang and Kung received a notice from the Investigation Office of the Ministry of Taiwan’s Investigation Bureau as they were about to leave Taipei’s Taoyuan airport, the firm said.

China Innovation has denied any wrongdoing and stated the man, William Wang Liqiang, was not one of its employees.

Speaking at a press conference in Taipei on Monday, Weng Yen-ching, former deputy director of Taiwan’s Military Intelligence Bureau, said the claim by Wang that he worked for China Innovation Investment was questionable.

“He said he worked for Xiang Xin, the head of China Innovation Investment, but China Innovation Investment has been known to be responsible for gathering high tech and industrial intelligence rather than military and political intelligence,” said Weng.

Chinese ‘spy’ William Wang is a fraud and wanted criminal, China says

Xiang and Kung have engaged Taiwanese lawyers to provide them with assistance, China Innovation said.

The company released a stock exchange filing after the market closed on Monday saying Xiang and Kung “are staying in Taiwan to cooperate with the investigation”.

In a filing issued earlier in the day, the firm said: “In fact, [Xiang and Kung] knew nothing about the issues exposed in the news reports. Wang Liqiang was never an employee of the group. The news reports were all fictitious and forged.”

That followed a stock exchange filing on Sunday night strongly denying Australian news reports, saying it has “never participated in any intelligence or espionage activities.”

Wang was part of an intelligence operation hidden within China Innovation that “infiltrated Hong Kong’s universities and media with pro-Chinese Communist Party operatives who could be activated to counter the democracy movement”, according to a report published on Saturday by Australian newspaper The Age, citing an interview with the self-proclaimed Beijing-sponsored secret agent. The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes have also run reports based on interviews with the man.

Hong Kong has been rocked by over five months of anti-government protests, initially against a now-withdrawn extradition bill but later morphing into wider grievances including the way the unrest has been handled by police.

The man, who is seeking political asylum in Australia, has given a sworn statement to the country’s Security Intelligence Organisation about what he said were Beijing’s efforts to influence politics in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia, the reports said. He claimed Beijing has secretly controlled listed firms to fund intelligence operations.

Hours after the reports were published, Shanghai police issued a statement claiming Wang was a convicted fraudster and a wanted criminal suspect.

Described as a 26-year-old unemployed worker from Nanping in the southeastern province of Fujian, the Shanghai police said Wang was given an 18-month suspended sentence in October 2016 for fraud by the Guangze county court in Fujian.

A signboard at the offices of China Innovation Investment in Hong Kong. Photo: AP

Wang has denied the police’s claims, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, saying he stood by the sworn statement.

China Innovation said in its latest exchange filing that all of its operations remain “as usual” and the news reports and “investigation cooperation” will not have any material impact on its business.

It posted a net profit of HK$23.9 million for the year’s first half, six times higher than the same period last year, as revenue – all from disposal of securities – grew almost ninefold to HK$135.9 million.

It made HK$16.6 million of profits from trading blue chip equity-linked notes issued by Deutsche Bank and UBS.

It owns three Hong Kong-incorporated firms that has mainland China subsidiaries involved in “new energies”, LED lighting technology and asset management businesses, according to its interim results filing.

It also owns a firm in the British Virgin Island that has a mainland Chinese unit involved in the development of “energy-saving materials for walls”.

The firm’s latest stock market value of HK$192 million is just 27 per cent of its net assets of HK$708 million at the end of June.

Its shares closed Monday down 6.3 per cent at 1.5 HK cents. Only HK$116,920 worth of shares changed hands.

Additional reporting by Lawrence Chung in Taipei

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