Home Europe Ex-Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt was a victim of Chinese hacking

Ex-Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt was a victim of Chinese hacking

by editor

BRUSSELS — Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian prime minister and a member of the European Parliament, has been revealed as the latest victim of a Chinese state-linked espionage campaign targeting officials working on an inter-parliamentary committee focused on China.

Belgian newspaper Le Soir first reported the news.

In March, the U.S. Department of Justice issued an indictment saying that Chinese hackers with links to the national spy agency, the Ministry of State Security, targeted “every European Union member” of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), a coalition of lawmakers critical of Beijing.

Verhofstadt is the fifth Belgian official to have been targeted by the Chinese hacker group APT31 for his work on China through IPAC. Other targeted Belgian officials include Samuel Cogolati, a Green MP; Els Van Hoof, the chair of Belgium’s Foreign Affairs Committee; Hilde Vautmans, a liberal MEP; and Georges Dallemagne, a federal deputy.

Last week, Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib summoned the Chinese ambassador over the allegations.

Cogolati told POLITICO that he was targeted in 2021, the same year Beijing sanctioned him, alongside other EU lawmakers. The cyberattacks were brought to Cogolati’s attention only in February 2023 via an email from the Centre for Cybersecurity Belgium.

According to a U.S. FBI letter sent to Cigolati dated April 5, the 2021 hacking campaign targeted the .gov-style accounts of EU legislators who were members of IPAC. The perpetrators registered and used 10 accounts to send over 1,000 emails to more than 400 individuals associated with IPAC.

In Van Hoof’s case, the spies targeted her laptop via an email that looked like it came from an international agency, she told a local radio show.

“The emails were about Donald Trump and human rights. They seemed very innocent and informative. But the intention was to get into our system,” she said.

According to a joint press statement shared by MEP Hilde Vautmans with POLITICO, the five targeted officials said, “This was not an attack on any single political party, or any particular country. It was an attack on any politician who dares to challenge Beijing.”

They continued, “We speak with one voice in condemning these actions, which strike at the heart of the democratic values which unite us.”

This article has been updated.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misidentified Belgium’s foreign minister. She is Hadja Lahbib.

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