Scholars may face up to ten years in prison if found to have unwittingly handed secrets to Beijing.
Up to 200 academics from more than a dozen UK universities are being investigated on suspicion of unintentionally helping the Chinese government build weapons of mass destruction..
The scholars are “suspected of transferring world-leading research in advanced military technology such as aircraft, missile designs and cyberweapons”, The Times reports.
In doing so, they would have violated “strict export laws intended to prevent intellectual property in highly sensitive subjects being handed to hostile states”, the paper continues. Many of the academics are thought to have “unwittingly” breached the laws by striking commercial deals with Chinese companies.
If found guilty, they could each face a maximum of ten years in prison. A source told The Times that “we could be seeing dozens of academics in courts before long”.
“If even 10% lead to successful prosecutions, we’d be looking at around 20 academics going to jail for helping the Chinese build super-weapons,” the source said.
News of the investigation comes just over a week after The Times reported that thousands of Chinese academics and researchers may be blocked from entering Britain amid concerns about the theft of intellectual property.
The Foreign Office is said to be introducing security vetting for academics and researchers working on national security issues, in response to fears that Chinese spies may acquire technology and data that could benefit Beijing.
The Telegraph revealed last week that three Chinese spies posing as journalists have been expelled from Britain in the past year. The trio, who arrived in the country on journalism visas, were “understood to be intelligence officers for Beijing’s Ministry of State Security”, according to the paper.
Last week also saw Ofcom revoking the licence that allowed China Global Television Network, an English-language satellite news channel, to broadcast in the UK.
The communications watchdog cited a “lack of editorial control and links to China’s ruling Communist Party”, Associated Press reports.