Indian Journalist Arrested for Allegedly Spying for China

Indian Journalist Arrested for Allegedly Spying for China
A vendor (C) wearing a mask looks for customers to ride his toy bike along the Rajpath street near India Gate in New Delhi on Sept. 16, 2020. (Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images)
Frank Fang

India has arrested three people in an alleged Chinese spy ring, including a local journalist who authorities said was paid more than $40,000 to provide sensitive information to Chinese intelligence agents.

Rajeev Sharma, a 61-year-old freelance journalist, was arrested on Sept. 14 and charged with passing sensitive information to Chinese intelligence agencies about the Indian Army’s movements, defense acquisitions, foreign policy, and the Dalai Lama, Delhi police said in a statement on Sept. 19.

The Indian journalist’s alleged handler, a Chinese woman named Qing Shi, and her Nepali associate Sher Singhi, who also went by the alias Raj Bohra, also were arrested.

Police also seized confidential documents after a search of his home in New Delhi.

The arrest occurred at a time when tensions between China and India remain high following recent deadly border clashes. In mid-June, a clash at the Galwan Valley left 20 Indian soldiers dead and an unknown number of Chinese casualties. In early September, shots were fired along the disputed border in Ladakh, with both China and India saying that it was the other side who had fired.

According to police, Sharma was contacted by a Chinese intelligence agent named Michael from Kunming, a city in China’s Yunnan Province, through the journalist’s LinkedIn account. The Chinese agent paid for Sharma to travel to China to be interviewed at an unnamed Chinese company.

Michael decided to reach out to Sharma after seeing his articles on China’s state-run media Global Times, according to the police. Sharma wrote a weekly column for the Global Times from 2010 and 2014.

Sharma continued to write for Global Times after 2014. On July 9, Sharma penned an article on the outlet about bilateral ties between China and India.

Sharma met with Michael and the agent’s subordinate, named Xou, during the trip to China, and the two Chinese agents asked Sharma to provide “inputs on various aspects of India and China relations,” the police said.

From 2016 to 2018, Sharma was tasked by the agents to provide information on issues such as the Doklam standoff, military cooperation between India and Burma, and the border dispute between India and China.

In June 2017, Chinese troops began building a road in the disputed Doklam area, an uninhabited territory in the eastern Himalayas claimed by both China and Bhutan. In response, Indian troops crossed its border into Doklam, saying that the Chinese military activity threatened India’s national security. A standoff between Chinese and Indian troops ensued before the two countries came to a disengagement agreement in late August 2017.

Michael and Xou also held other meetings with Sharma in Laos and Maldives, Indian police said.

In January 2019, Sharma traveled to Kunming via Kathmandu to meet with another Chinese agent named George, the latter claimed to be a general manager of an unnamed Chinese media company, according to police.

George offered to pay Sharma $500 for each article or piece of information on the Dalai Lama, the police said. The money would be wired to him from MC Pharmacy, a shell company based in the Indian urban village of Mahipalpur. Qing and Singh were directors of the company.

According to the press release, Sharma allegedly received more than 3 million Indian rupees (about $40,755) from George between January 2019 and September 2020.

It's unclear how much Sharma is accused of receiving before 2019. The Delhi police stated that Sharma was paid through shell companies, Western Union money transfer, and a system called hawala. They added that Chinese intelligence operated Indian shell companies to pay Sharma.

On Sept. 19, Delhi Police said in a press conference that Sharma had a press accreditation card issued by India’s Press Information Bureau, meaning that he had easy access to Indian government ministry buildings, according to local daily The Times of India.

Another local daily The Hindu, citing an unnamed senior government official, stated that Qing first arrived in India in 2013 on a student visa and was enrolled at one of the central universities in Delhi to pursue a master's degree in nursing. Until 2017, she worked for a Nigeria-based health care product company located in Delhi. She then obtained a business visa in July 2019.

According to The Hindu, Sharma is also associated with the New Delhi-based think tank Vivekananda International Foundation, which is founded by Ajit Doval, who is India’s national security adviser.

Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers U.S., China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.