Politics

Quebec man accused of using space agency status to negotiate contracts for Chinese company

A Quebec man has been charged with breach of trust for allegedly using his status as a Canadian Space Agency engineer to negotiate satellite station installation agreements with Iceland on behalf of a Chinese aerospace company.

Special unit with RCMP launched investigation after CSA's security department raised concerns

The RCMP accuses Wanping Zheng of using his status as a Canadian Space Agency engineer to negotiate satellite station installation agreements with Iceland on behalf of a Chinese aerospace company. (YouTube)

A Brossard, Que. man has been charged with breach of trust for allegedly using his status as a Canadian Space Agency (CSA) engineer to negotiate satellite station installation agreements with Iceland on behalf of a Chinese aerospace company.

"We do consider this to be a matter of foreign actor interference," said RCMP Inspector David Beaudoin, the officer in charge of operations for the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET) in Quebec. 

The RCMP said it started investigating the activities of 61-year-old Wanping Zheng back in 2019 after the space agency's security department sent information to INSET.

INSET's job is to detect and disrupt any foreign interference. It investigates activities carried out by or on behalf of foreign actors that constitute a risk to Canada's economy and institutions, said the RCMP in a media release.

Beaudoin said Zheng allegedly obtained and facilitated contracts related to satellite facilities located in Iceland.

"All of this was done to facilitate the advantage of a Chinese aeronautic company," he said.

When asked what kind of information was passed along, Beaudoin said more details would be released in court.

CSA spokesperson Sarah Berjaoui said Zheng stopped working for the agency in 2019.

"When doubts were raised about the offender's activities outside of working hours, the CSA took various actions, including conducting an internal investigation and restricting access to the information," she said, adding the agency continues to strengthen its security to protect its information, people and assets.

The RCMP described the CSA as part of Canada's critical infrastructure and a strategic asset needing protection.

Former ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques said China has long been interested in Canada's science and technology.

"In space we have some niche applications that are very useful, and in fact this is just a reminder that we have to be a lot more vigilant to counter what I would call cyber espionage," he said. "Because the Chinese have been very good about doing that.

"We have to be more rigorous in the way that we oversee exchanges and that we supervise employees to try to catch those that may be tempted to work with China unfortunately." 

'Security is paramount,' says minister

Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne, who oversees the space agency, said his department has been working to shore up security around Canadian intellectual property and research. 

"Security is paramount in all our agencies, and certainly at the Canadian Space Agency," he said Wednesday.

WATCH | Quebec man accused of using space agency status to help Chinese company: 

Space agency employee accused of using status to help Chinese company

12 months ago
Duration 2:01
A former engineer at the Canadian Space Agency is accused of using his position to benefit a Chinese aerospace company and now faces criminal charges.

"I take and we take a very firm approach when it comes to the safety and security of all our agencies."

Earlier this year, the head of Canada's spy agency warned that almost all sectors of the economy have been targeted by hostile foreign actors — and named Russia and China as two of his main sources of concern.

"The threat from hostile activity by state actors in all its forms represents a significant danger to Canada's prosperity and sovereignty," said David Vigneault, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, in his first public speech in three years.

"Our investigations reveal that this threat has unfortunately caused significant harm to Canadian companies."

Zheng is scheduled to appear in court in Longueuil on Dec. 15.

With files from Chris Rands and CBC Montreal

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