Chinese MI6 informant gave information to MPs about Huawei threat

A Chinese informant for MI6, now serving a life sentence for murder in a British jail, has given information about the telecommunications company Huawei to the parliamentary intelligence and security committee (ISC), the Guardian has learned.

He has been thanked by the chair of the committee, the senior Conservative backbencher Dr Julian Lewis, and told that he had raised “several important areas of concern” and that the committee’s findings may be “of interest” to him.

The revelation comes amid concern about Chinese infiltration into British politics. The controversy over Huawei has also resurfaced with the disclosure that Guto Harri, the prime minister’s new communications director, lobbied a former chief of staff at Downing Street not to ban the Chinese company.

Wang Yam, who was found guilty in 2009 of the murder of the author Alan Chappelow, a crime of which he continues to protest his innocence, contacted the committee last year. He sent the ISC – and a number of prominent individuals – documents about his knowledge of the background and intentions of the Chinese telecommunications company, Huawei, and the potential risks in Britain’s involvement in the company.

He has long claimed in letters from prison that he provided MI6 with detailed warnings and information about Huawei. Wang, a grandson of Chairman Mao Zedong’s third-in-command, was a research assistant in the Chinese nuclear weapons research institute. He fled China via Hong Kong and was granted refugee status in Britain in 1992. It is accepted that he was an MI6 informant.

In a letter responding to Wang, currently in Lowdham Grange prison in Nottingham, the chair of the committee, Lewis, wrote: “You discuss several important areas of concern regarding the influence of China generally and Huawei in particular within the UK’s telecommunications infrastructure and public sector. As you may be aware, the ISC is currently conducting an inquiry into the national security issues relating to China.

“The committee noted the significance of Huawei to the UK’s 5G infrastructure in April 2019 and announced that it would prioritise this aspect of its inquiry. I cannot comment on the substance of the inquiry which is ongoing but you may find the committee’s conclusion and recommendations of interest when it lays its findings before parliament.”

Huawei has previously said it had never engaged in espionage or allowed its technology to be knowingly hacked by the Chinese state.

Lewis told the Guardian that the committee “noted the policy issues raised by Mr Yam: the ISC is currently conducting an inquiry into the national security threat posed by China”. He also noted that Wang Yam also raised several points about his “personal issues” – a reference to his trials and his complaints against the intelligence agencies. He referred Wang to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) which he said was the appropriate body for him to contact. The IPT investigates allegations of unlawful activities of state bodies, including the security and intelligence agencies.

Wang also told the Guardian that his correspondence with the “relevant authorities” in the US had met with a sympathetic response and an assurance that his points were taken “most seriously.” Wang was recruited as an informant by MI6 after defecting from China and being granted refugee status in the UK in 1992. He was assigned to making contacts with Chinese embassy staff, he has claimed.

Chappelow, an 86-year-old author and photographer, was found dead in his home in Hampstead, north London in 2006, after police had been alerted by his bank following suspicious transactions. Use of his stolen credit cards was traced to Wang Yam, who lived nearby and was later arrested in Switzerland.

His initial Old Bailey trial in 2008 was held under unprecedented levels of secrecy for a murder case. Journalists were not allowed to attend court to hear the defence.

The prosecution suggested that Wang was confronted by Chappelow as he stole letters and bank information from his post box before entering his house and killing him. Wang was convicted of theft and fraud but the jury could not reach a decision on the murder charge. At a second trial, he was convicted of murder and jailed for a minimum of 20 years.

From prison, he contacted the Guardian protesting his innocence. Following an article in the paper in 2014, new witnesses emerged, leading to a referral back to the court of appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission. A near neighbour of Chappelow told the appeal court that, soon after the murder and with Wang already in custody, he was confronted by an intruder who told him: “Do not call the police or we will kill your wife and baby.” Another witness gave evidence that Chappelow was a regular visitor to the “spanking bench” on Hampstead Heath and he had seen him there shortly before his death leaving with young men. There were also fresh footprints and cigarette butts found in the house that did not relate to Wang Yam.

Despite the new evidence, which his lawyers argued would have almost certainly led to an acquittal at his original trial, the appeal was turned down. There is now a possibility that fresh developments in DNA testing could assist in a further appeal. There are also plans for a film, according to Thomas Harding, author of the prize-winning book on the case, Blood on the Page.

Wang has complained to the IPT about the way he was treated by MI6 and that the agency asked him to participate in unlawful activities. His lawyer, Edward Preston, confirmed that an application had been made to the IPT, which did not respond to the Guardian’s request for a comment.

The potential threat Huawei presents to British interests and competing commercial and security interests has preoccupied the ISC and the intelligence agencies for many years. Back in 2013 the ISC released a stinging report into the way the government handled contracts with Huawei. Seven years later, British telecoms providers were banned from installing Huawei equipment in Britain’s 5G mobile network.

• This article was amended on 18 February 2022. An earlier version said Wang Yam set out concerns about Huawei’s 5G infrastructure in documents sent to the ISC and prominent individuals. While he has expressed views about Huawei and 5G, he does not, as the article may have implied, have direct knowledge of 5G because it was developed since he was in prison. That reference has been removed to avoid any possible confusion.

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