Quoting an unnamed detective within Sweden’s security service, Säpo, radio news program Ekot reported that guest scientists from China were suspected of stealing unpublished and unpatented research from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.
The Chinese state is suspected of orchestrating the espionage, according to Ekot.
“Guest researchers (can) have assignments besides their guest research assignment: to come across information coveted in their home country,” another Säpo inspector, Nils Kaerrlander, told Ekot, speaking of research espionage in general.
“There are also countries that would not hesitate to put pressure on guest researchers, who may have come here with no other ambition but to complete their research assignment,” he added.
While Säpo often warns companies and research labs about the possibility of espionage from other firms or countries, spokesman Jakob Larsson insisted that the service had not gone public with any specific suspicions against China or any other nation.
“There is always a risk of espionage, since research is so expensive to do… but we don’t know who this mysterious detective (Ekot) is quoting is,” he told AFP, referring to the unnamed source.
One of the reporters who produced the story, Bo Goeran Bodin, however claimed that the detective had informed her superiors that she told Ekot about the suspicions against China.
“We have a woman detective at Säpo on tape, but she did not want her name to be revealed… We spoke with her several times and she has said it was China” that was suspected of the espionage, Bodin told AFP.
Karolinska Institute director, Harriet Wallberg Henriksson, said she took the reports seriously. However, she added that the university had not received direct confirmation from Säpo that an investigation was taking place, and said she was awaiting further information.
Wallberg-Henriksson also said that she that she regretted that China had been singled out.
“We value our partnership with China and other Asian countries which are currently making huge efforts in medicinal research and biotechnology, which benefits us in Sweden,” she said.
Wallberg-Henriksson added that her university also valued its relationships with its guest researchers from China, and was anxious that they should not feel that they were being treated as spies.
In contrast with other countries, at Swedish universities individual researchers – and not their institutions – own the rights to research. This means that the direct victims of research espionage are academics rather than universities.
“We take all possible measures to protect ourselves against this kind of espionage,” said Karolinska Institute spokesperson Sabina Bossi, “but ultimately it is in the interests of individual researchers to protect themselves.”