Polish authorities arrested a sales director of Huawei Technologies Co. and charged him with conducting espionage on behalf of China, raising the stakes over Western allegations the global company is a spying tool for Beijing.
The Chinese national’s detention follows the December arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer in Canada, at the U.S.’s request, on allegations the company violated U.S. sanctions on Iran. Unlike that case, the Polish charges relate directly to suspicions by Washington and other Western governments that China could use Huawei equipment, or its employees, to help it spy on foreign governments and companies.
Polish officials said Huawei itself wasn’t charged with any wrongdoing. They didn’t detail the charges or say whether any sensitive information was compromised. Officials also arrested a Polish national on the same charge.
For years, Washington has labeled Huawei a national security threat, saying Beijing could force it to tap into or disable foreign communications networks. Huawei has denied that forcefully, pointing out that it hasn’t been implicated in any overseas spying allegations. The Polish charges could change that.
The arrest comes amid other diplomatic, military and economic tensions between the U.S. and China. The Trump administration has ratcheted up scrutiny of Huawei as it pursues a broader strategy of changing Chinese practices on trade and industrial development. Washington and Beijing have been engaged in a tit-for-tat tariff fight that has rattled global markets.
Poland’s arrest also comes in an especially sensitive region for the U.S. Poland is an important military ally and key North Atlantic Treaty Organization member. President Trump has forged close links with the nationalist Polish government, which has proposed paying Washington to set up a military base there. The U.S. also has several thousand troops in Poland, part of the West’s response to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and intervention in Ukraine.
Any spying in Poland can be especially delicate for the U.S. and its allies because of NATO intelligence sharing. There is no indication so far, however, that Polish officials believe any such information has been compromised
Huawei has come to play a big role in Poland’s telecom infrastructure and smartphone market as the company grew quickly from a mostly Chinese-focused supplier to the world’s biggest maker of telecom equipment and second biggest smartphone maker, behind Samsung Electronics Co.
Counterintelligence agencies elsewhere in the region have issued unusually public warnings against Huawei for years. That has been part of broader international scrutiny of cyber vulnerabilities in NATO’s eastern flank, a front line for cyberattacks against U.S. allies. As far back as 2013, the Czech Security Information Service, a domestic security agency, suggested excluding Huawei from public tenders and said the company might be installing backdoors on its equipment to allow outsiders to log into government computers from elsewhere.
Huawei said it complies with laws and regulations in the countries where it operates, and requires employees to do the same. A spokesman said the company was looking into the Polish arrest. A Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said Beijing “is highly concerned” about the arrest.
Officers of Poland’s counterintelligence agency this week searched the local Huawei office, confiscating documents and electronic data, as well as the home of the arrested Chinese national, said Stanislaw Zaryn, a spokesman for Poland’s security coordination office. The man wasn’t named, but people familiar with the matter identified him as Weijing Wang. He is known in Poland as Stanislaw Wang, according to these people and a public LinkedIn page that matches his biographical details.
People who know Mr. Wang described him as a well-known figure in local business circles, often spotted at events sponsored by Huawei in Poland. “He spoke great Polish,” said a Polish businessman who organizes frequent commercial delegations to China.
Before taking over as a Huawei sales director in Poland, Mr. Wang was a Huawei public-relations director in the country, according to this person and the LinkedIn page. He worked at the Chinese consulate in Gdansk, Poland, according to a friend and the LinkedIn page, which says he was an attaché there for more than four years before joining Huawei in 2011.
Chinese telecom giant Huawei has long caused tension between Washington and Beijing. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday explains what the company does and why it’s significant. (Photo: Aly Song/Reuters)
In Poland, Mr. Wang worked in Huawei’s enterprise division, handling sales of information-technology and communications equipment to government customers, said people familiar with the matter. That business area sometimes involves a higher level of scrutiny than others, one of these people said.
As part of the same investigation, Poland’s Internal Security Agency, or ABW, also detained one of its own former senior officials, a Polish citizen who was deputy head of the agency’s IT security department. The crime they are charged with, espionage, carries up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Both pleaded not guilty.
Former senior Polish officials familiar with the case identified the former senior IT official as Piotr Durbajlo, who held a series of sensitive jobs in the Polish government and its intelligence services.
Mr. Durbajlo, according to his LinkedIn page, served in 2009-2013 as deputy director of the ICT security department at ABW. After that, he held until 2016 senior jobs at Poland’s Office of Electronic Communications, an agency that among other tasks oversees classified government communications. He also served as an adviser in Poland’s prime minister’s office in 2016, according his LinkedIn page.
In recent years, Mr. Durbajlo also taught at the Cardinal Stefan Wyszinski University in Warsaw. His official bio on the university’s website says he set up the Polish government’s special communications network during its presidency of the European Union and received numerous government awards. A 2011 Polish news article quoted Mr. Durbajlo describing the brand-new system that his agency had designed for secure cellphones used by Poland’s topmost government officials.
“He had access to the most sensitive information,” said one former senior official who worked with Mr. Durbajlo. “He is quite a smart guy, but he was no James Bond. More like a typical IT director.”
Polish counterintelligence officers also searched the offices of French telecommunications carrier Orange SA, where Mr. Durbajlo had previously worked, according to Polish state-owned television. Orange’s local unit said it had handed over belongings of one of its employees. “We have no knowledge if there is any relation of these actions to his professional duties,” it said. Orange said it was cooperating with the probe.
Last month, Canadian authorities, at the behest of U.S. officials, arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou on charges she lied to banks about the company’s business in Iran. Ms. Meng denies the charges. Days later, Beijing arrested a former Canadian diplomat in what friends and former colleagues said was retaliation.
In 2012, a U.S. congressional report labeled Huawei a national security threat, a finding the company said was politically motivated. A number of countries, including Australia, the U.K., Germany, New Zealand and Japan have all agreed to review their telecom-gear supply chain, or have specifically restricted the sale of Chinese gear. Huawei has long denied it spies, saying that it is owned by its employees and operates independently of Beijing.
Washington more recently has pressed allies aggressively to avoid using Huawei gear. The push comes as many carriers around the world start rolling out 5G, the latest generation of mobile-telecom technology that promises faster connections and is envisioned to help enable internet connections for everything from factories to toothbrushes.
Poland has been Huawei’s top market in Central and Eastern Europe. Last year, the government named the company an official partner of its 5G strategy. In September, Huawei and Orange’s local unit began installing the first test antennas of a 5G network the two companies hoped to launch together. In November, the prime minister’s office said Huawei would build a science-and-technology center in the capital. It already runs a research-and-development center there.
“Poland is Huawei’s base camp in the region,” said Mo Jia, an analyst at Canalys.
—Natalia Ojewska in Wroclaw, Poland, and Wenxin Fan in Hong Kong contributed to this article.